Neo-Impressionism: Philosophy or Great Decor?

A new show reveals the profundities–and gorgeous surfaces–of the movement.


Theo Van Rysselberghe’s “Big Clouds”, painted in 1893, belongs to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and is now on loan to a show called “Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: Painting, Poetry, Music” at the Phillips Collection in Washington. The show claims that the Neo-Impressionists – Seurat, Signac and their ilk – were profound thinkers (at least in the clichéd sense), wanting to delve deep into philosophy and symbolism. That may be true of their intentions – that old fallacy once again – but I don’t buy it as a description of what they actually achieved. I think a quote from a Phillips wall text gets nearer the truth: In 1890, the critic Felix Fénéon called Signac’s paintings “exemplary specimens of a highly developed decorative art.” I’d prefer to see Neo-Impressionism in the context of Art Nouveau, and of the fertile and daring collapse of fine art and design. That makes especially good sense of the dot-covered borders and frames that Van Rysselberghe and his fellow Neo-Imps put on their pictures, helping their works transition into the decors all around them. Imagine “Big Clouds” in a room full of Tiffany’s Favrile glass, and it starts to come into its own.

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.


Article topics
Subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.

You are currently logged into this Artnet News Pro account on another device. Please log off from any other devices, and then reload this page continue. To find out if you are eligible for an Artnet News Pro group subscription, please contact [email protected]. Standard subscriptions can be purchased on the subscription page.

Log In