Divisionism – The History
By the end of the 19th century, the art world had grown a little weary with the limitations of Impressionism. French painter Georges Seurat (1859-91) was fascinated by the various scientific theories of French chemist Michel-Eugene Chevreul (1786-1889) and American physicist Ogden Rood (1831-1902), on optical vision and color contrast. Inspired by these theories, in 1884, he developed the concept of Chromoluminarism, also known as Divisionism. French artist Paul Signac (1863-1935) came up with the term “Divisionism” in his book ‘From Eugene Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism,’ published in 1899.
Divisionism was an unusual painting technique, where color was applied on canvas in the form of patches or daubs. This lent a shimmery effect on the artworks. A typical Divisionist work consisted of millions of brush strokes of varied colors. According to Divisionists, the idea behind this close yet a separate application of color was to combine the pigments optically, resulting in a more elusive and radiant image. Therefore, light, color contrasts, reflection, and shadowing were the key influencers here. Divisionists thought that the physically mixing colors could be messy and may not be able to achieve similar brilliancy. Divisionism is often confused with Pointillism, which merely refers to the application of paint in dots form.
Art critics received Divisionism with mixed reactions. Great French Impressionists like Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) were not huge fans of Divisionism, which was essentially a Neo-Impressionist style. French art critic Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) had a strong opinion on Georges Seurat’s work. He said, “Strip his figures of the colored fleas that cover them, underneath there is nothing, no thought, no soul, nothing.” However, Divisionism found appreciation with a few French critics, such as Felix Feneon (1861-1944) and Antoine de la Rochefoucauld (1862-1959). Divisionist theories were under huge speculation, since they carried the blame of misconstruing the principles of optical theory and simultaneous contrast. The Divisionist works did not have an increased optical luminosity. In fact, individual colors retained their respective luminosity and merely juxtaposing them would not necessarily influence the radiance.
The Artists & the Artworks
“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (1884-1886) by Georges Seurat, “The Milliner” (1885) by Paul Signac, “Self-Portrait with Hat” (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh (Dutch – 1853-90) are some brilliant examples of Divisionism. Italian artists Angelo Morbelli (1853-1919), Gaetanio Previati (1852-1920), Vitorio Grubicy (1851-1920), and Pino Nomelli were some of the major proponents of Divisionism. The genre also inspired the members of the French Society of Independent Artist and even made its presence felt in countries like Belgium and Netherlands.
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