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"Post-Impressionism"... The Color Theory and Georges Seurat.

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

During the first decade of the 19th century, western art avant-garde began to reject Impressionists' concern for the naturalistic depiction of light and color. Whilst, they continued using vivid colors, utilizing the impasto technique (thick application of paint), they were more inclined to more distorted expressive forms and use of unnatural colors.

The new style gives more attention to the message the artwork conveys and the overall composition of the art piece, the artists who adopted the new style were dissatisfied with what they felt was the superficial subject matter and the absence of strong compositions in Impressionists' paintings.

The term Post-Impressionism was first used by art critic Roger Fry.

To describe the new style, the term Post-Impressionism was first used by art critic Roger Fry in 1906, and in 1910, the art critic organized the first exhibition "Manet and the Post-Impressionists", defining it as the development of French art since Manet.

Post-Impressionism offshoot into Les Nabis, Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Cloisonnism, the Pont-Aven School, and Synthetism.

The movement's principal artists were Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. Post-Impressionism was part of a big Modernism wave within the international Western civilization with its original roots in France, going back beyond the French Revolution to the Age of Enlightenment.

Post-Impressionism is a term best used to describe the Western art movement between 1886 and 1914, while the exact end and extent of 'Post-Impressionism' remain under discussion.

Georges Seurat A Sunday on La Grande Jatte 1884
Georges Seurat A Sunday on La Grande Jatte 1884

A Guide To Neo-Impressionism

In 1884, Seurat's most renowned masterpiece, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" was marked as the beginning of what was called later The Neo-Impressionism movement.

When the painting first made its appearance at an exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in Paris, in 1886, French art critic Félix Fénéon was the first to use the term Neo-Impressionism.

As a result of the 19th-century debate around the value of academic art, Neo-Impressionism was an attempt to incorporate modern science and anarchist theory for the sake of creating strong-impact artworks. The artists of the movement promised to employ optical and psycho-biological theories in pursuit of an innovative art style.

The development of color theory by Michel Eugène Chevreul.

The development of color theory by Michel Eugène Chevreul and others played a pivotal role in shaping the Neo-Impressionist style. Seurat's mission as an artist was to celebrate the power of pure color, the expressive power of line, color, and value.

Neo-impressionists' focus was not on imitating realism but was on building the painting by integrating dots of pure color, mixing colors was not necessary. From a distance, the dots came together to form the painting in the most vibrant color palette. Neo-Impressionism devised a system of pure-color juxtaposition.

The effective utilization of pointillism facilitated eliciting a distinct luminous effect. "Chromoluminarism" was a term preferred by Georges Seurat as an alternative to the term "Neo-Impressionism". The term "Chromoluminarism" declared the depictions of color and light which were central to Seurat's artistic style.

Divisionism Artists believed they were achieving the best scientifically possible color utilization.

Another term is "Divisionism", a term coined by Signac, it refers to the Neo-Impressionists' application of individual paint patches of complementary and contrasting colors. The viewer combines the colors optically instead of physically mixing pigments.

Divisionism painters believed they were achieving the best scientifically possible color utilization in their paintings. The term "Pointillism" describes a Neo-Impressionism technique in which dots of color instead of blocks of color are applied.

Neo-Impressionism meticulously calculated regularity of brush strokes was criticized to be too mechanical and antithetical to the commonly accepted spontaneous brushwork practices of Impressionism.

Also, divisionist painters were often criticized because their color choices were often planned and scientifically constructed, they lacked the radical freedom that spontaneous paintings embodied.

Neo-Impressionism then spread abroad when Seurat and Pissarro were invited to Les Vingt, an avant-garde society in Brussels. This style became the dominant form in Belgium by 1889.

Even after Georges Seurat's death in 1891, post-impressionism continued to evolve and expand over the next decade with even more distinctive characteristics as a social commentary tool of political and social ideas creating a "blend of social and artistic theory".

The Color Theory and Georges Seurat

Georges Pierre Seurat (2 December 1859 – 29 March 1891) was a leader in introducing techniques known as "chromoluminarism" and "pointillism", His large-scale work "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886)" was referred to by art critics as the first depictions of the Neo-impressionism art style.

In 1878, he moved on to the École des Beaux-Arts, Seurat's studies resulted in a theory of color and contrasts, a theory to which all his work was thereafter subjected.

In the 1880s, Seurat was also influenced by Sutter's Phenomena of Vision (1880) and lectures by the mathematician Charles Henry at the Sorbonne, who discussed the emotional properties and symbolic meaning of lines and color.

Seurat was inspired by the color theorists' notion of a scientific approach to painting. He believed that an artist could use color to create emotional harmony in art in the same way that a musician uses counterpoint and variation to create harmony in music.


Seurat thought that the knowledge of optical perception could be used to create a new language of art based on the utilization of lines, color intensity, and color scheme. Seurat called this language Chromoluminarism.

Seurat stated that the usage of luminous colors and lines directed upward would reflect The emotions of joy. While Calm emotions are achieved through soft light transitions, the balance between warm and cold colors, and horizontal lines.

Furthermore, sadness is achieved by using dark and cold colors and by lines pointing downward. At the beginning of his artistic career, he worked at mastering the art of monochrome drawing.

In the summer of 1884, Seurat began work on his masterpiece "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte". The painting shows members of each of the social classes participating in various park activities.

It took Seurat two years to complete this 10-foot-wide (3.0 m) painting, The tiny juxtaposed dots of pure colored paint allow the viewer's eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors physically blended by the artist on the canvas. The technique was known later as Divisionism.

Seurat was inspired by the theories of Michel Eugène Chevreul (31 August 1786 – 9 April 1889) who was a French chemist and centenarian whose work contributed to significant developments in science, medicine, and art.

Chevreul noticed that two colors juxtaposed, very close together, would have the effect of another color when seen from a distance. This phenomenon became the basis for the pointillist technique of the Neo-Impressionist leader George Seurat.

Seurat died in Paris in his parents' home on 29 March 1891 at only the age of 31. Indeed, the Neo-Impressionism pioneer had succeeded in establishing a phenomenal scientific basis in the domain of color.

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