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Pointillism: Definition, History & Artists

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Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

In art, pointillism is a method that uses small dots of different colors to generate depth and heighten intensity in colors. Explore the definition and history of pointillism, and learn about notable artists, such as Georges Seurat and Vincent van Gogh, who used this method. Updated: 10/17/2021

Pointillism

Originating with Impressionist masters, pointillism relies on using tiny dots of varying colors to create depth in a work of art. By doing so, the artist is able to create incredibly subtle variations in color that would have appeared otherwise clumsy. Especially popular during the 19th century, the style is considered part of the Post-Impressionist period, a movement that continued many of the ideals of Impressionism - namely the ability of the artist to place what appears in the mind's eye on canvas for the viewer.

Such an emphasis on color comes at a substantial cost in terms of shape and movement. Only a handful of works were able to avoid the appearance of stiltedness, and practically every Pointillist work looks posed, unlike many of the earlier Impressionist works, which seem to capture a moment of life untamed.

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Notable Pointillists

Georges Seurat

Perhaps the most famous of the Pointillists is Georges Seurat: a French artist who lived during the late 19th century. During his tragically short life - he died at age 31 - he served as one of the true pioneers of Pointillism.

Further, he combined considerable mastery of chromoluminarism, or the practice of leaving white spaces on the canvas between the dots, to create a level of light that was otherwise impossible. Among his most famous works is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte.

While the forms may look artificial, the color leaps off the canvas much like one would expect on a summer afternoon.


Paul Signac

Another prominent Pointillist was Paul Signac, famous for his travels throughout the Mediterranean. The bright colors possible with the pointillist technique lent itself very well to portraying the exotic images, at least by Parisian standards. Among his major works is The Grand Canal (Venice).


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