Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904

June 15-September 7, 2014

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1887
Oil on artist’s board, mounted on cradled panel, 16 1/8 x 13 1/4 in. (41 x 32.5 cm)
The Art Institute of Chicago. Joseph Winterbotham Collection.
Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago.

How is a portrait more than just a likeness? Can a portrait reveal elements of character, identity, and personality? And what is the effect when that portrait is rendered according to certain rules of color and brushwork? These are subjects addressed by Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904, a groundbreaking exhibition organized by the IMA and on view June 15 through September 7, 2014.

Neo-Impressionism, the style of painting with individual dots applied in certain color combinations, was developed by Georges Seurat in 1886. Perhaps because his approach was so rooted in capturing natural light and brilliant color, the style is usually associated with landscapes, seascapes, and urban scenes. Face to Face is the first exhibition to focus on the intriguing portraits created by members of the Neo-Impressionist movement. Comprised of more than 30 paintings and 20 works on paper, the show features works by French, Belgian, and Dutch artists, including Paul Signac, Maximilien Luce, Vincent van Gogh, and Théo van Rysselberghe.

Drawn from museums such as the Musée d’Orsay, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as libraries and private collections throughout Europe and the United States, the exhibition presents a rich variety of engaging images, offering fresh insight into the aesthetics and personalities of one of the era’s most fascinating chapters. Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Albert Dubois-Pillet, Mlle. B.; a striking portrait of a seated woman, recognized through research for this exhibition as the earliest Neo-Impressionist portrait
  • Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1887; with its arresting contrast of complementary colors, this work is the best Neo-Impressionist example of the artist’s remarkable self-portraits.
  • Henri-Edmond Cross, Madame Hector France; a life-size portrait and the first Neo-Impressionist painting by one of Seurat’s most important followers.
  • Théo van Rysselberghe, a stunning trio of full-length portraits of the three sisters of the Sèthe family, painted by Belgium’s most distinguished Neo-Impressionist portraitist.
  • Georges Lemmen, The Serruys Sisters – a haunting double portrait of great originality and a primer of the Neo-Impressionist method.

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, with additional support provided by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Exhibition catalogue

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue, The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904, published by Yale University Press in association with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The authors are exhibition curators Jane Block and Ellen W. Lee, with contributions by French scholars Marina Ferretti Bocquillon and Nicole Tamburini. The book will be available in April 2014 and will be the first comprehensive survey of Neo-Impressionist portraiture.

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