The beginnings of the movement designated under the name of Neo-Impressionism can be traced back to about 1880. The movement is a direct offshoot of the first Impressionism, originated by a group of young painters who admired it and thought of pushing further still its chromatic principles. The flourishing of Impressionism coincided, as a matter of fact, with certain scientific labours concerning optics. Helmholtz had just published his works on the perception of colours and sounds by means of waves. Chevreul had continued on this path by establishing his beautiful theories on the analysis of the solar spectrum. M. Charles Henry, an original and remarkable spirit, occupied himself in his turn with these delicate problems by applying them directly to aesthetics, which Helmholtz and Chevreul had not thought of doing. M. Charles Henry had the idea of creating relations between this branch of science and the laws of painting. As a friend of several young painters he had a real influence over them, showing them that the new vision due to the instinct of Monet and of Manet might perhaps be scientifically verified, and might establish fixed principles in a sphere where hitherto the laws of colouring had been the effects of individual conception. At that moment the criticism which resulted from Taine's theories tried to effect a rapprochement of the artistic and scientific domains in criticism and in the psychologic novel. The painters, too, gave way to this longing for precision which seems to have been the great preoccupation of intellects from 1880 to about 1889.

Their researches had a special bearing on the theory of complementary colours and on the means of establishing some laws concerning the reaction of tones in such manner as to draw up a kind of tabula. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac were the promoters of this research. Seurat died very young, and one cannot but regret this death of an artist who would have been very interesting and capable of beautiful works. Those which he has left us bear witness to a spirit very receptive to theories, and leaving nothing to chance. The silhouettes are reduced to almost rigorously geometrical principles, the tones are decomposed systematically. These canvases are more reasoned examples than works of intuition and spontaneous vision. They show Seurat's curious desire to give a scientific and classic basis to Impressionism. The same idea rules in all the work of Paul Signac, who has painted some portraits and numerous landscapes. To these two painters is due the method of Pointillism, i.e. the division of tones, not only by touches, as in Monet's pictures, but by very small touches of equal size, causing the spheric shape to act equally upon the retina. The accumulation of these luminous points is carried out over the entire surface of the canvas without thick daubs of paint, and with regularity, whilst with Manet the paint is more or less dense. The theory of complementary colours is systematically applied. On a sketch, made from nature, the painter notes the principal relations of tones, then systematises them on his picture and connects them by different shades which should be their logical result. Neo-Impressionism believes in obtaining thus a greater exactness than that which results from the individual temperament of the painter who simply relies on his own perception. And it is true, in theory, that such a conception is more exact. But it reduces the picture to a kind of theorem, which excludes all that constitutes the value and charm of an art, that is to say: caprice, fancy, and the spontaneity of personal inspiration. The works of Seurat, Signac, and of the few men who have strictly followed the rules of Pointillism are lacking in life, in surprise, and make a somewhat tiring impression upon one's eyes. The uniformity of the points does not succeed in giving an impression of cohesion, and even less a suggestion of different textures, even if the values are correct. Manet seems to have attained perfection in using the method which consists in directing the touches in accordance with each of the planes, and this is evidently the most natural method. Scientific Chromatism constitutes an ensemble of propositions, of which art will be able to make use, though indirectly, as information useful for a better understanding of the laws of light in presence of nature. What Pointillism has been able to give us, is a method which would be very appreciable for decorative paintings seen from a great distance—friezes or ceilings in spacious buildings. It would in this case return to the principle of mosaic, which is the principle par excellence of mural art.

The Pointillists have to-day almost abandoned this transitional theory which, in spite of the undeniable talent of its adepts, has only produced indifferent results as regards easel pictures. Besides Seurat and Signac, mention should be made of Maurice Denis, Henri-Edmond Cross, Angrand, and Théo Van Rysselberghe. But this last-named and Maurice Denis have arrived at great talent by very different merits. M. Maurice Denis has abandoned Pointillism a few years ago, in favour of returning to a very strange conception which dates back to the Primitives, and even to Giotto. He simplifies his drawing archaically, suppresses all but the indispensable detail, and draws inspiration from Gothic stained glass and carvings, in order to create decorative figures with clearly marked outlines which are filled with broad, flat tints. He generally treats mystic subjects, for which this special manner is suitable. One cannot love the parti pris of these works, but one cannot deny M. Denis a great charm of naivete, an intense feeling for decorative arrangements and colouring of a certain originality. He is almost a French pre-Raphaelite, and his profound catholic faith inspires him nobly.

ThÉo Van Rysselberghe - Mme. Van Rysselberghe & Daughter 


M. Théo Van Rysselberghe continues to employ the Pointillist method. But he is so strongly gifted, that one might almost say he succeeds in revealing himself as a painter of great merit in spite of this dry and charmless method. All his works are supported by broad and learned drawing and his colour is naturally brilliant. M. Van Rysselberghe, a prolific and varied worker, has painted nudes, large portraits, landscapes with figures, seascapes, interiors and still-life, and in all this he evinces faculties of the first order. He is a lover of light and understands how to make it vibrate over flesh and fabrics. He is an artist who has the sense of style. He has signed a certain number of portraits, whose beautiful carriage and serious psychology would suffice to make him be considered as the most significant of the Neo-Impressionists. It is really in him that one has to see the young and worthy heir of Monet, of Sisley, and of Degas, and that is why we have insisted on adding here to the works of these masters the reproduction of one of his. M. Van Rysselberghe is also a very delicate etcher who has signed some fine works in this method, and his seascapes, whether they revel in the pale greys of the German Ocean or in the warm sapphire and gold harmonies of the Mediterranean, count among the finest of the time; they are windows opened upon joyous brightness.

To these painters who have never taken part at the Salons, and are only to be seen at the exhibitions of the Indépendants (except M. Denis), must be added M. Pierre Bonnard, who has given proof to his charm and fervour in numerous small canvases of Japanese taste; and M. Edouard Vuillard, who is a painter of intimate scenes of rare delicacy. This artist, who stands apart and produces very little, has signed some interiors of melancholic distinction and of a colouring which revels in low tones. He has the precision and skill of a master. There is in him, one might say, a reflection of Chardin's soul. Unfortunately his works are confined to a few collections and have not become known to the public. To the same group belong M. Ranson, who has devoted himself to purely decorative art, tapestry, wall papers and embroideries; M. Georges de Feure, a strange, symbolist water-colour painter, who has become one of the best designers of the New Art in France; M. Félix Vallotton, painter and lithographer, who is somewhat heavy, but gifted with serious qualities. It is true that M. de Feure is Dutch, M. Vallotton Swiss, and M. Van Rysselberghe Belgian; but they have settled down in France, and are sufficiently closely allied to the Neo-Impressionist movement so that the question of nationality need not prevent us from mentioning them here. Finally it is impossible not to say a few words about two pupils of Gustave Moreau's, who have both become noteworthy followers of Impressionism of very personal individuality. M. Eugène Martel bids fair to be one of the best painters of interiors of his generation. He has the feeling of mystical life and paints the peasantry with astonishing psychologic power. His vigorous colouring links him to Monticelli, and his drawing to Degas. As to M. Simon Bussy who, following Alphonse Legros's example, is about to make an enviable position for himself in England, he is an artist of pure blood. His landscapes and his figures have the distinction and rare tone of M. Whistler, besides the characteristic acuteness of Degas. His harmonies are subtle, his vision novel, and he will certainly develop into an important painter. Together with Henri le Sidaner and Jacques Blanche, Simon Bussy is decidedly the most personal of that young generation of "Intimists" who seem to have retained the best principles of the Impressionist masters to employ them for the expression of a psychologic ideal which is very different from Realism.

Outside this group there are still a few isolated painters who are difficult to classify. The very young artists Laprade and Charles Guérin have shown for the last three years, at the exhibition of theIndépendants, some works which are the worthy result of Manet's and Renoir's influence. They, too, justify great expectations. The landscapists Paul Vogler and Maxime Maufra, more advanced in years, have made themselves known by some solid series of vigorously presented landscapes. To them must be added M. Henry Moret, M. Albert André and M. Georges d'Espagnet, who equally deserve the success which has commenced to be their share. But there are some older ones. It is only his due, that place should be given to a painter who committed suicide after an unhappy life, and who evinced splendid gifts. Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutchman, who, however, had always worked in France, has left to the world some violent and strange works, in which Impressionism appears to have reached the limits of its audacity. Their value lies in their naïve frankness and in the undauntable determination which tried to fix without trickery the sincerest feelings. Amidst many faulty and clumsy works, Van Gogh has also left some really beautiful canvases. There is a deep affinity between him and Cézanne. A very real affinity exists, too, between Paul Gauguin, who was a friend and to a certain extent the master of Van Gogh, and Cézanne and Renoir. Paul Gauguin's robust talent found its first motives in Breton landscapes, in which the method of colour-spots can be found employed with delicacy and placed at the service of a rather heavy, but very interesting harmony. Then the artist spent a long time in Tahiti, whence he returned with a completely transformed manner. He has brought back from these regions some landscapes with figures treated in intentionally clumsy and almost wild fashion. The figures are outlined in firm strokes and painted in broad, flat tints on canvas which has the texture almost of tapestry. Many of these works are made repulsive by their aspect of multi-coloured, crude and barbarous imagery. Yet one cannot but acknowledge the fundamental qualities, the beautiful values, the ornamental taste, and the impression of primitive animalism. On the whole, Paul Gauguin has a beautiful, artistic temperament which, in its aversion to virtuosoship, has perhaps not sufficiently understood that the fear of formulas, if exaggerated, may lead to other formulas, to a false ignorance which is as dangerous as false knowledge. Gauguin's symbolical intentions, like those of his pupil Emile Bernard, are sincere, but are badly served by minds which do not agree with their technical qualities, and both Gauguin and Emile Bernard are most happily inspired when they are painters pure and simple.

Next to Gauguin, among the seniors of the present generation and the successors of Impressionism, should be placed the landscapist Armand Guillaumin who, without possessing Sisley's delicate qualities, has painted some canvases worthy of notice; and we must, finally, terminate this far too summary enumeration by referring to one of the most gifted painters of the French School of the day, M. Louis Anquetin. His is a most varied talent whose power is unquestionable. He made his début among the Neo-Impressionists and revealed the influence upon him of the Japanese and of Degas. It may be seen that these two influences predominate in the whole group. Then M. Anquetin became fascinated by the breadth and superb freedom of Manet's works, and signed a series of portraits and sketches, some of which are not far below so great a master's. They are works which will surprise the critics, when our contemporary painting will be examined with calm impartiality. After these works, M. Anquetin gave way to his impetuous nature which led him to decorative painting, and he became influenced by Rubens, Jordaens, and the Fontainebleau School. He painted theatre curtains and mythological scenes, in which he gave free rein to his sensual imagination. In spite of some admirable qualities, it seems as though the artist had strayed from his true path in painting these brilliant, but somewhat declamatory works, and he has since returned to a more modern and more direct painting. In all his changed conditions Anquetin has shown a considerable talent, pleasing in its fine vigour, impetuosity, brilliancy and sincerity. His inequality is perhaps the cause of his relative want of success; it has put the public off, but nevertheless in certain of this brave and serious painter's canvases can be seen the happy influence of Manet.

It seems to us only right to sum up our impartial opinion of Neo-Impressionism by saying that it has lacked cohesion, that Pointillism in particular has led painting into an aimless path. It has been wrong to see in Impressionism too exclusive a pretext for technical researches, and a happy reaction has set in, which leads us back to-day, after diverse tentative efforts (amongst others some unfortunate attempts at symbolist painting), to the fine, recent school of the "Intimists" and to the novel conception which a great and glorious painter, Besnard, imposes upon the Salons, where the elect draw inspiration from him. We can here only indicate with a few words the considerable part played by Besnard: his clever work has proved that the scientific colour principles of Impressionism may be applied, not to realism, but to the highest thoughts, to ideologic painting most nobly inspired by the modern intellectual preoccupations. He is the transition between Impressionism and the art of to-morrow. Of pure French lineage by his portraits and his nudes, which descend directly from Largillière and Ingres, he might have restricted himself to being placed among the most learned Impressionists. His studies of reflections and of complementary colours speak for this. But he has passed this phase and has, with his decorations, returned to the psychical domain of his strangely beautiful art. The "Intimists," C. Cottet, Simon, Blanche, Ménard, Bussy, Lobre, Le Sidaner, Wéry, Prinet, and Ernest Laurent, have proved that they have profited by Impressionism, but have proceeded in quite a different direction in trying to translate their real perceptions. Some isolated artists, like the decorative painter Henri Martin, who has enormous talent, have applied the Impressionist technique to the expression of grand allegories, rather in the manner of Puvis de Chavannes. The effort at getting away from mere cleverness and escaping a too exclusive preoccupation with technique, and at the same time acquiring serious knowledge, betrays itself in the whole position of the young French School; and this will furnish us with a perfectly natural conclusion, of which the following are the principal points:—

What we shall have to thank Impressionism for, will be moral and material advantages of considerable importance. Morally it has rendered an immense service to all art, because it has boldly attacked routine and proved by the whole of its work that a combination of independent producers could renew the aesthetic code of a country, without owing anything to official encouragement. It has succeeded where important but isolated creators have succumbed, because it has had the good fortune of uniting a group of gifted men, four of whom will count among the greatest French artists since the origin of national art. It has had the qualities which overcome the hardest resistance: fecundity, courage and sure originality. It has known how to find its strength by referring to the true traditions of the national genius, which have happily enlightened it and saved it from fundamental errors. It has, last, but not least, inflicted an irremediable blow on academic convention and has wrested from it the prestige of teaching which ruled tyrannically for centuries past over the young artists. It has laid a violent hand upon a tenacious and dangerous prejudice, upon a series of conventional notions which were transmitted without consideration for the evolution of modern life and intelligence. It has dared freely to protest against a degenerated ideal which vainly parodied the old masters, pretending to honour them. It has removed from the artistic soul of France a whole order of pseudo-classic elements which worked against its blossoming, and the School will never recover from this bold contradiction which has rallied to it all the youthful. The moral principle of Impressionism has been absolutely logical and sane, and that is why nothing has been able to prevent its triumph.

Technically Impressionism has brought a complete renewal of pictorial vision, substituting the beauty of character for the beauty of proportions and finding adequate expression for the ideas and feelings of its time, which constitutes the secret of all beautiful works. It has taken up again a tradition and added to it a contemporary page. It will have to be thanked for an important series of observations as regards the analysis of light, and for an absolutely original conception of drawing. Some years have been wasted by painters of little worth in imitating it, and the Salons, formerly encumbered with academic pastiches, have been encumbered with Impressionist pastiches. It would be unfair to blame the Impressionists for it. They have shown by their very career that they hated teaching and would never pretend to teach. Impressionism is based upon irrefutable optic laws, but it is neither a style, nor a method, likely ever to become a formula in its turn. One may call upon this art for examples, but not for receipts. On the contrary, its best teaching has been to encourage artists to become absolutely independent and to search ardently for their own individuality. It marks the decline of the School, and will not create a new one which would soon become as fastidious as the other. It will only appear, to those who will thoroughly understand it, as a precious repertory of notes, and the young generation honours it intelligently by not imitating it with servility.

Not that it is without its faults! It has been said, to belittle it, that it only had the value of an interesting attempt, having only been able to indicate some excellent intentions, without creating anything perfect. This is inexact. It is absolutely evident, that Manet, Monet, Renoir and Degas have signed some masterpieces which did not lose by comparison with those in the Louvre, and the same might even be said of their less illustrious friends. But it is also evident that the time spent on research as well as on agitation and enervating controversies pursued during twenty-five years, has been taken from men who could otherwise have done better still. There has been a disparity between Realism and the technique of Impressionism. Its realistic origin has sometimes made it vulgar. It has often treated indifferent subjects in a grand style, and it has too easily beheld life from the anecdotal side. It has lacked psychologic synthesis (if we except Degas). It has too willingly denied all that exists hidden under the apparent reality of the universe and has affected to separate painting from the ideologic faculties which rule over all art. Hatred of academic allegory, defiance of symbolism, abstraction and romantic scenes, has led it to refuse to occupy itself with a whole order of ideas, and it has had the tendency of making the painter beyond all a workman. It was necessary at the moment of its arrival, but it is no longer necessary now, and the painters understand this themselves. Finally it has too often been superficial even in obtaining effects; it has given way to the wish to surprise the eyes, of playing with tones merely for love of cleverness. It often causes one regret to see symphonies of magnificent colour wasted here in pictures of boating men; and there, in pictures of café corners; and we have arrived at a degree of complex intellectuality which is no longer satisfied with these rudimentary themes. It has indulged in useless exaggerations, faults of composition and of harmony, and all this cannot be denied.

But it still remains fascinating and splendid for its gifts which will always rouse enthusiasm: freedom, impetuousness, youth, brilliancy, fervour, the joy of painting and the passion for beautiful light. It is, on the whole, the greatest pictorial movement that France has beheld since Delacroix, and it brings to a finish gloriously the nineteenth century, inaugurating the present. It has accomplished the great deed of having brought us again into the presence of our true national lineage, far more so than Romanticism, which was mixed with foreign elements. We have here painting of a kind which could only have been conceived in France, and we have to go right back to Watteau in order to receive again the same impression. Impressionism has brought us an almost unhoped-for renaissance, and this constitutes its most undeniable claim upon the gratitude of the race.

It has exercised a very appreciable influence upon foreign painting. Among the principal painters attracted by its ideas and research, we must mention, in Germany, Max Liebermann and Kuehl; in Norway, Thaulow; in Denmark, Kroyer; in Belgium, Théo Van Rysselberghe, Emile Claus, Verheyden, Heymans, Verstraete, and Baertson; in Italy, Boldini, Segantini, and Michetti; in Spain, Zuloaga, Sorolla y Bastida, Dario de Regoyos and Rusiñol; in America, Alexander, Harrison, Sargent; and in England, the painters of the Glasgow School, Lavery, Guthrie and the late John Lewis Brown. All these men come within the active extension of the French movement, and one may say that the honour of having first recognised the truly national movement of this art must be given to those foreign countries which have enriched their collections and museums with works that were despised in the land which had witnessed their birth. At the present moment the effects of this new vision are felt all over the world, down to the very bosom of the academies; and at the Salons, from which the Impressionists are still excluded, can be witnessed an invasion of pictures inspired by them, which the most retrograde juries dare not reject. In whatever measure the recent painters accept Impressionism, they remain preoccupied with it, and even those who love it not are forced to take it into account.

The Impressionist movement can therefore now be considered, apart from all controversies, without vain attacks or exaggerated praise, as an artistic manifestation which has entered the domain of history, and it can be studied with the impartial application of the methods of critical analysis which is usually employed in the study of the former art movements. We shall not pretend to have given in these pages a complete and faultless history; but we shall consider ourselves well rewarded for this work, which is intended to reach the great public, if we have roused their curiosity and sympathy with a group of artists whom we consider admirable; and if we have rectified, in the eyes of the readers of a foreign nation, the errors, the slanders, the undeserved reproaches, with which Frenchmen have been pleased to overwhelm sincere creators who thought with faith and love of the pure tradition of the national genius, and who have for that reason been vilified as much as if they had in an access of anarchical folly risen against the very common sense, taste, reason and clearness, which will remain the eternal merits of their soil. This small, imperfect volume will perhaps find its best excuse in its intention of repairing an old injustice and of affirming a useful and permanent truth: that of the authenticity of the classicism of Impressionism, in the face of the false classicism of the academic world which official honours have made the guardian of a French heritage, whose soul it denied and whose spirit it deceived with its narrow and cold formulas.