Organized to complement Signac 1863–1935: Master Neo-Impressionist, this exhibition brings together approximately sixty paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints from the Metropolitan's collection. The exhibition features works by Signac's friends and colleagues Georges Seurat, Maximilien Luce, Henri Edmond Cross, Camille Pissarro, and Henri Matisse, and underscores the richness of the Museum's holdings of artists working in the style they championed. Flourishing from 1886 to 1906, the artists who worked in this avant-garde style came to be called Neo-Impressionists. The term was coined by art critic Félix Fénéon in 1886 to describe the innovative work of the pioneers of this daring new vision.
Neo-Impressionism extended its reach beyond France to Belgium as well, where an avant-garde group known as Les Vingt (Les XX) embraced Seurat's ideals following the 1887 exhibition in Brussels of his masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. Théo van Rysselberghe was a member of this highly visible Belgian circle, and the exhibition features several examples of his work. Even Henri Matisse briefly experimented with a Neo-Impressionist technique, prompted in part by the influence of Signac's treatise From Eugène Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism and by the invitation to paint with Signac at his Saint-Tropez residence.
Neo-Impressionists rejected the random spontaneity of Impressionism. They sought to impose order on the visual experience of nature by way of codified, scientific principles. An optical theory known as mélange optique was formulated to describe the idea that separate, often contrasting colors would combine in the eye of the viewer to achieve the desired chromatic effect. The separation of color through individual strokes of pigment came to be known as "Divisionism" while the application of precise dots of paint came to be called "Pointillism." According to Neo-Impressionist theory, the application of paint in this fashion set up vibrations of colored light that produced an optical purity not achieved by the conventional mixing of pigments on canvas.
The theoretical tenets of optical painting upheld by Neo-Impressionism's standardbearer, George Seurat, gave way to a more fluid technique following his untimely death in 1891. In the luminous work of Henri Edmond Cross, for example, small, precise brush marks were replaced by long, mosaic-like strokes and clear, contrasting hues by a vibrant, saturated palette. While some artists merely flirted with Neo-Impressionism and others, like Camille Pissarro, renounced it entirely, Seurat's legacy extended well into the twentieth century in the works of Cross and Signac. Poised between Impressionism in the nineteenth century and Fauvism and Cubism in the twentieth, Neo-Impressionism brought with it a new awareness of the formal aspects of painting and a theoretical language by which to paint.