A study of light; Contrasting Impressionism and Pointillism

Impressionism and Pointillism sprung from a rejection of Romanticism and Neoclassicism. Both styles studied the interaction of light as observed by the human eye but each took very different approaches. Impressionists sought to be free from the restraints of classical subject matter and traditional technique instead allowing the hand to move freely, working quickly and often on a more intimate scale.  On the other hand, pointillism developed from the study of optical color theory and therefore consisted of a very rigid, analytic and mechanical technique. Paintings done in an impressionistic style tend to have a lot of emotion and sense of movement. Conversely, works produced with pointillism techniques appear very flat, static and lifeless.  As both styles caught on, some artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh, would begin using techniques of both to create a new style that would lead the art world towards expressionism.

View of the Prins Hendrikkade and the Kromme Waal in Amsterdam, Claude Monet, 1874, From the collection of: Van Gogh Museum
This painting by Monet is a classic example of the impressionist style. The forms are blurry and the colors muted; things one would expect to see on a cloudy, drizzly day. There is very little blending and the short brush strokes remain visible everywhere.
This painting by Monet is a classic example of the impressionist style. Using the techniques illustrated and discussed in this video, this painting is able to accurately depict how the human eye sees light shifting through a heavy fog.
L'Île Lacroix, Rouen (The Effect of Fog), Camille Pissarro, French, 1830 - 1903, 1888, From the collection of: Philadelphia Museum of Art
Despite the title, this video illustrates one of the main techniques used in pointillism. Unlike the previous painting, Pissarro seeks to depict fog in a very mechanical and analytic manner. He exploits how the eye combines colors in close proximity to each other.
Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper, Edgar Degas, 1879, From the collection of: Detroit Institute of Arts
We see impressionism in more than paintings. In this sketch by Degas, we see a study of a dancer. The movement and form have been captured loosely and quickly. We have just enough detail to know what the subject matter is.
Woman Strolling (Une élégante), about 1884, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
In this drawing by Seurat, we are given detail in the values of the scene but very little movement. Seurat used a heavily textured paper upon which he would build up value in the crevices of the paper producing a stippling effect similar to that of pointillism. The woman appears very solid and still and seems to be posing rather than strolling.
La Récolte des Foins, Éragny, Camille Pissarro, 1887, From the collection of: Van Gogh Museum
Primarily using Seurat's method of pointillism to depict figures often results in a stiff and slightly abstracted scene. The life of the figures has been frozen in the mechanical, precise rendering.
Centaur mosaic from the Villa Hadriana, Unknown, 120/130, From the collection of: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Seurat was not the first to create a picture using individual "dots" of color. It is interesting to note that although this mosaic was formed with "dots" of color, it maintains a sense of movement.
Snow, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris, Paul Signac, 1886, From the collection of: Minneapolis Institute of Art
We can see pointillism in Signac's use of blue and yellow together to optically create green in the brick wall on the right. However, since he combines impressionism with pointillism techniques, this painting maintains a sense of dynamism.
Self-portrait with grey felt hat, Vincent van Gogh, September 1887 - October 1887, From the collection of: Van Gogh Museum
Using both impressionistic and pointillist techniques, Van Gogh achieves a wonderful balance in his use of color and expression.
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