In the late 1880s a group of young painters tried to break free of the naturalism of Impressionism in finding new artistic styles for expressing emotions and to concentrate on themes of deeper symbolism. Their art was characterized by the use of simplified colors, definitive forms as well as abstract tendencies. In the group responding to Impressionism we can find names like Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne and others. They are known as Post-Impressionists today. This term was coined by Roger Fry (1866-1934) in his exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionist at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1910. These painters formed a base for most contemporary trends in the 20th century.
Georges Seurat (1859-1891) analyzed optical and color theories where he believed that, by placing tiny dots of pure colors right next to each other, a viewer’s eyes would be able to combine those dots to get the full painting. It brought a new scientific approach to Impressionism in color and light as well as the application of paint, sometimes in dots and dashes. If you get close enough to the painting, you will see nothing else other than dots in different colors and if you go further away they form a whole picture together. Themes like landscapes and seascapes where his most popular subjects.
Among his followers was Henri Jean Guillaume Martin (1860-1943). His La Bastide du Vert is a great example of pointillism. It is a rectangular vertical landscape painting divided into two parts. In the foreground you can see a rivulet at the bottom with different shrubbery on each side and five tall pine trees. Behind these trees is a green field cut by a small path with smaller pines and other trees on both sides, marking the border between fore and background. Behind are two fields separated by a vertical path through the middle. On the right side from that you can see the first two houses and behind the fields you can see four more buildings. Beyond those buildings you can see another field running through to the end of the scene, and no sky at all in the whole painting. A typical characteristic of pointillism found in this painting is a very strict geometrical composition. It is dominated by horizontal and vertical lines, like the rivulet and paths going on strict left-to-right patterns or the big pine trees in the front, strictly vertical. There are no diagonal lines in the artwork that would show any movement.
The three dimensional world in the Impressionism transformed into a two dimensional world with strict rules about colors and shapes, combined with the emotions of the painter. The paining became a parallel reality and it ceased to be a representative illustration. Henri Martin lived in Paris where he was in contact with the artists of his time. However, he was a very introverted person, so he decided to move to Marquayrol where he saw La Bastide du Vert (a valley) from his window. In the painting you can almost feel the quiet atmosphere and the artist’s inner harmony.
In the beginning, pointillism didn’t have a significant value for artists in the late 19th century, but today we know that that style had an effect on how artists worked with objectivity, reproduction, abstraction and construction. It also influenced some styles later on. The next time you stand in front of a pointillist painting you can try out and see the difference between standing far away from the artwork or very close. You can compare it with other works and most important: have fun with it and enjoy every dot.