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DivisionismDefinition, History of Neo-Impressionist Painting Method. MAIN A-Z INDEX – A-Z of ART MOVEMENTS
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-6).Art Institute Of Chicago.By Georges Seurat.
ContentsWhat is Divisionism? • Origins and History • Painting Method • Legacy • Famous Divisionist Paintings
Bathers at Asnieres (1884).National Gallery, London.By Georges Seurat.
ART EVOLUTIONFor details of art movementsand styles, see: History of Art.For a quick guide to specificstyles, see: Art Movements.
WORLD’S GREATEST ARTFor a list of the Top 10 painters/sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.For the best oils/watercolours, see: Greatest Paintings Ever.
What is Divisionism? In fine art painting, the term Divisionism (also called Chromoluminarism) refers to the theory behind Neo-Impressionism – a style of modern art which involved the separation of colours into individual dots or patches which – once on the canvas – interacted optically in the viewer’s eye. By advocating the application of small touches of pure colour onto the canvas (thus making the viewer’s eye ’mix’ the different colours optically), instead of physically mixing colour pigments on a palette and then applying them to the canvas, Divisionists believed they were able to attain the maximum possible luminosity. The first artist to systematically develop the theory of Divisionism was Georges Seurat (1859-91), the meticulous master of drawing, whose family wealth allowed him to experiment with chromoluminarism and other scientific theories of colour propounded by scientists like Michel Eugene Chevreul, Charles Blanc, David Sutter, Hermann von Helmholtz and Ogden Rood. An offshoot of Divisionism was the style known as Pointillism (after the French word ’point’ for dot), which is characterized by the use of dots of paint. The two most famous examples of French Divisionism, both by Seurat, are the paintings A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–86, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago), and Bathers at Asnieres (1884, National Gallery, London).
Origins and History
The method of juxtaposing dots of pure colour on a canvas so that they seem to combine together producing greater luminosity than if they had been premixed on a palette, was pioneered first by Impressionist painters like Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). It was one of the instinctive painting techniques they used in order to capture the fleeting colours present in the reflection of sunlight. (To compare Monet’s approach, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.) However, it wasn’t until 1880 when Georges Seurat began to study technical treatises on colour theory in painting – such as chromoluminarism and optics – and deliberately set about the task of creating scientifically the sort of shimmering colour effects that Monet and others had arrived at by chance and inspiration, that systematic progress was made. Unlike the Impressionists, most of whom used the technique of plein air painting in order to capture the transitory effects of light, Seurat did most of his painting in the studio, where everything was planned down to the last detail.
As a result of Seurat’s pioneering efforts, Pointillism – although he preferred the name Divisionism – became the hottest fashion in French painting during the 1880s and 90s. After his premature death in 1891, the style was actively promoted by Paul Signac (1863-1935), whose book From Eugene Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism, published in 1899 coined the name "Divisionism" and gave the movement a new lease of life.
Other followers of Seurat included Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910), Theo Van Rysselberghe (1862-1926), Maximilien Luce (1858-1941), and Jan Toorop (1858-1928). Divisionism also attracted the involvement of modern artists like Van Gogh (1853-90), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Andre Derain (1880-1954), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) and others. Indeed, almost every major painter active during the era of Post-Impressionism experimented with Divisionism. For a modern example, see the Canadian Magic Realist painter Alex Colville (b.1920).