Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of colour are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the technique in 1886, branching from Impressionism. The term “Pointillism” was coined by art critics in the late 1880s to ridicule the works of these artists, but is now used without its earlier pejorative connotation. The movement Seurat began with this technique is known as Neo-impressionism. The Divisionists used a similar technique of patterns to form images, though with larger cube-like brush strokes.
The technique relies on the ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to blend the colour spots into a fuller range of tones. It is related to Divisionism, a more technical variant of the method. Divisionism is concerned with colour theory, whereas pointillism is more focused on the specific style of brushwork used to apply the paint. It is a technique with few serious practitioners today and is notably seen in the works of Seurat, Signac and Cross.
Televisions and computer monitors use a similar technique to represent image using Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) colours. Pointillist colours often seem brighter than paint typically mixed on a palette. This may be partly because subtractive mixing of the pigments is avoided, and because some of the white canvas may be showing between the applied dots.
As important to Pointillism as any artist was the French chemist, Michel Eugène Chevreul – and his book, Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours. Employed by a Parisian tapestry works that wished to improve the strength of its colours, he discovered that the issue wasn’t the dyes being used but the way different hues were being combined. In short, the visual impact of a tapestry was actually a matter of optics, not chemistry. It depended on the juxtaposition of complementary colours (which enhanced each others intensity) – blue and orange, for example.