Pointillism: Portraying Light by Points of Pure Colours, Artist Georges Seurat

Théo van Rysselberghe 
Musee do petit Palais in Geneva

In the art-world of Europe, the nineteenth century was the time of new ideas. 

In the second half of it, a French Painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891) started a virgin experiment. He put the dots of pure colours on canvas. He let the viewers visualise the colours of the painting on their own. A novel experiment. His experiment had got a new name: Cubism.  

Seurat put the points of pure colours side by side and created the visual mix in the eyes of the viewers themselves. He succeeded in creating a magical effect. He had an education in two fields: colours and geometry. His education in various theories of colours made him the master of colours. 

Seurat's education in geometry gave him a wonderful insight into finding out the effects of different linear structures. The rest was left on the abilities of the eyes of the viewers. This combination generated a new trend in the world of art: the art technique of pointillism. 

The simple definition of pointillism can be given like this: it is a technique in which a painting is done by putting dots of the colours, next to each other. After that, the artist requests the colours to sign a pact of harmony with each other and make out the painting an excellent one. 

This painting is painted by Theo Van Rysselberghe's. He was a Belgian neo-impressionist painter. His style of painting is pointillism. Here is one of his several portrait paintings. This portrait of Madame Irma Sethe is an amazing execution of the artistic vision. We can feel the movement of the hand on the violin, too.

The colours are generally put in their unaltered forms. It is a depiction of a play of light by putting tiny dots of colours side by side. Arranging these colours in their contrasting shades, the whole painting is made looking sparkling with brilliance. Though every technique is important for the beautification of the canvas, no technique should deter the main purpose of an artist. The passion with which an artist is painting, and the level of expression he or she is devoting to paint, must be unaffected. Pointillism would encourage the artist's creativity.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte–1984 Georges Seurat
Oil on Canvas     Art Institute of Chicago

Seurat had done a unique contribution to the art of painting by recreating the images using small dots of colours. These small contrasting dots would make an eye-catching and subtle change in the visual forms of the objects painted. If we look at the painting Lighthouse at Honfleur done by Georges Seurat, we would know how dexterously the colours are put side by side creating a dazzling image. The tiny dots of green yellow and other pure colours are arranged to create a sense of light and the feeling of distance.  

The Artist: Were we to talk about the art of Georges Seurat, we would never miss his A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1984. When he, a young man of 26 presented this painting to the eyes of the critics, it was immediately taken as a posing challenge to impressionism.

In fact, this was the painting, and Georges Seurat was the artists, that initiated the movement called “Neo-Impressionism” in the world of art. This painting has become one of the paintings which even an ordinary person would recognize. This is the true recognition of the artistic prowess of the painter who had tried balancing the two contradictory aspects of innovations and traditions. His palate mainly contained pure colours like French ultramarine, cobalt blue, burnt and raw sienna and cadmium yellow. This mix of colours made his paintings so appealing.

Lighthouse at Honfleur Georges Seurat 
Pointillism National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Ordinarily, the artists mix the colours to create the required effects of light and shadows. In pointillism, a form of divisionism, the colours get mixed by the eyes of viewers. That's the difference.

Seurat used the theories of colours in creating the optical unification of colours. By using the contrasting colours so skillfully, he would form a single hue in the eyes of the viewers. 

Seurat preferred pointillism over the traditional brushstroke technique. The reason was he believed that his technique would make the colours more brilliant and the painting vivid. Seurat's palate was occupied by the newly invented pigments of yellow and the traditional orange, blue and green.  

Beach at Heist Georges Lemmen
Oil on panel, 37.5 x 45.7 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

In the late nineteenth century, an artist from a French-speaking family had used pointillism as his medium of expression. However, he had also used lines and broader strokes. Nowadays, television used the same technique to create the effect on the glass tube. The computer monitor also uses red, green and blue to create the images on the screen. It is an experienced fact that when the colours are put on canvas or created on the tube, the viewers are required to make out a view. The natural qualities of our seeing-mechanism do the rest of the job. [All the images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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