Spot-On Masterpieces

The Albertina pin-points Pointillism’s meticulously methodical mark-making.

Georges Seurat once insisted that, although some saw poetry in his paintings, he saw “only science.” The founding father of Pointillism, he used color and optical theory to create images out of scores of individual dots, relying on the human eye to create a full range of color rather than physically blending paint on canvas. Now, more than a century later, Ways of Pointillism at the Albertina proves how versatile and creative the movement could be, heralding Seurat’s “dot-invention” as the start of an artistic revolution.

At first, Seurat’s sedate, stylized seascapes with boats anchored in geometric patterns do not appear extraordinary, but a closer look reveals oceans created by brilliantly textured, meticulously placed contrasting dots, owing their incredible iridescence not to years of expert color blending but to your very own eye.

Nobody could have predicted the explosive impact this technique would have. Initially creating ripples in France, the movement would eventually shake up the European art world and would later be regarded as an early pioneer of modernism.

One artist attracted to this novel use of trompe-l’œil (optical illusion) was Achille Laugé. From a distance, Laugé’s 1892 Portrait of Madame Astre could easily be mistaken for a grainy old television screen, but as you approach, clusters of intricate brushwork emanate from a canvas littered with millions of individual dots. The effect is breathtaking.

Seurat’s most faithful follower, Paul Signac, features heavily in the exhibition. His series of Venetian lagoons indicates a similar passion for seascapes. Signac’s paintings create a painstakingly detailed, dappled luminous surface; although they appear to dutifully emulate his mentor’s optical manifesto with flecks of complementary and contrasting paint, his looser, more vibrant brushstrokes signal the beginning of the dot’s metamorphosis.

Venice, The Pink Cloud, 1909, © Albertina, Vienna - Batliner Collection
Paul Signac, Venice, The Pink Cloud, 1909 // © Albertina, Vienna – Batliner Collection

Dynamic dots

Signac’s ambitiously radiant colors freed the movement from Seurat’s scientific shackles and awakened the interest of Vincent Van Gogh. Seurat’s pure vision required a controlled hand and patience: both of which Van Gogh lacked. But he made up for that with enthusiasm, passion and radiant color in 1888’s The Sower.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Sower, 1888, Collection Kröller Müller-Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands
Vincent Van Gogh, The Sower, 1888 // © Collection Kröller Müller-Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands

It was a fleeting flirt with Pointillism and its labor-intensive strokes, swishes and swirls of color; his stormy, sporadic yet generous brushstrokes were less suited to measured paint application.

It’s clear that by the end of the 19th century, many had grown weary of dots. Théo van Rysselberg’s 1905 Seated Nude marks a tentative step towards liberating Pointillism from its intricate mélange optique with broader, more vibrant mosaic blocks of color, paving the way for Fauvists like Henri-Edmond Cross, André Derain, Henri Matisse and Jean Metzinger. Look out for Metzinger’s extraordinary 1910 Bacchante, were he ramps up Pointillism’s potency with a stunning range of precision cubes of anarchic colour.

Unsurprisingly, these increasingly synthetic depictions of reality verge on abstraction and among the exhibition’s highlights are undoubtedly the works of Robert Delaunay, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, whose Cubist work radically disrupts the equilibrium of the meager dot.

Comprised of around 100 masterpieces, the exhibition offers a rare chance to explore an important chapter in art history, tracing the movement’s versatility in a consummate collection of Pointillism’s marvelous morphing dots.

Seurat, Signac, Van Gogh: Ways of Pointillism

Through Jan 8, 2017
Daily 10:00–18:00, Wednesdays to 21:00
1., Albertinaplatz 1
(0)1 534 83-0


Genevieve Doyle
Genevieve Doyle is writing for METROPOLE on her summer off from reading English Literature at The University of Cambridge. When she isn’t attending fairs to buy and source beautiful antiques and textiles, she likes painting murals and walking her very large Irish deerhound.

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