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Divisionism
Almost inherent in a definition of art is the word "new" spoken or unspoken. We use euphemisms for it like creative or original, but the meaning is the same. Trends, style, and art movements, in the past especially, come and go with the regularity of each year's new car models. This phenomenon became especially noticeable in the 1880s as artists (if not the public) grew tired and disillusioned with Impressionism. Renoir and Degas were some of the first to break away, feeling stifled by the inherent limitations of Impressionism; while CÚzanne rose to prominence amongst the art elite by quietly searching for something more solid than the airy lightness of en plein air Impressionism. A few die-hards like Monet continued to cling to it but even in his case, his work began to take on many of the colouristic, experimental characteristics of what has since come to be known as Divisionism.

Georges Seurat started it all in the early 1880s with his monumental Pointillistic studies of colour, further enhanced and expounded upon by artists such as Maximillien Luce in his View of Montmartre, 1887 and by Paul Signac in paintings such as The Milliner, from 1885. Seurat died young. Signac didn't. He continued to work with Seurat's dots and other forms of the divided brush stroke for another fifty years. His glistening, luminous paintings picked up on several art trends to follow from Symbolism to Surrealism. Comparing The Milliner with his Portrait of Felix Feneon, dating from 1890, illustrates just how far he had come in only five years. His paintings, combined with his essay, D'Eugene Delacroix au Neo Impressionisme, gave concrete as well as theoretical expression to the study of colour in painting and elevated Divisionism from a mere local curiosity to an international movement.

In Italy, for instance, a movement called Scapigliature combined Divisionism with figurative painting in a style blending with it elements of Rococo and Romantic painting. At the same time, Giovanni Segantini evolved his realistic painting style using colour gradations into a kind of linear form of pointillism, wherein varying colours were meticulously laid in using parallel lines as thin as thread which corresponded to the composition of the painting rather than overriding it as did Pointillism. Italian artists such as Angelo Morbelli in his Feast Day at the Trivulzio Hospice in Milan painted in 1892, demonstrated that this form of Divisionism was no enemy of either realism or serious social content. Using Divisionist technique and colour theory, he and others probed the social ills of rapid industrialisation, neglect of the elderly, and the social institutions rising to meet these problems. Thus, the search for "newness" took its first breaths of life from Impressionism, but once the bonds with Academicism were broken and the artistic "birds" of the Post-Impressionist era were free to fly the Impressionist nest, there were no limits as to the heights they might reach.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
21 June 1999

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