About the Exhibition

Achille Laugé (French, 1861–1944)
Self-Portrait in a White Beret, about 1895–96
Collection of Robert Bachmann, Lisbon.
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

The human face is one of the most natural of subjects. From ancient times to the present, artists and their models have engaged in the dynamic interaction that defines the art of the portrait. And what viewer has not considered how a portrait fails or succeeds to capture the physical features, spirit, or personality of the model? With Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904, the IMA takes a familiar theme and carries it to new territory. Face to Face is the first exhibition to explore the rich realm of the Neo-Impressionist portrait.

The 30 oil paintings and 20 drawings featured in the exhibition reveal the character and remarkable variety of these images and offer fresh insight into one of the era’s most fascinating chapters. The show features works by French, Belgian, and Dutch artists, including Paul Signac, Maximilien Luce, Vincent van Gogh, and Théo van Rysselberghe. All the painters are followers of Georges Seurat, the artist who developed the use of divided color and dotted brushwork that characterize the Neo-Impressionist technique. The portraits also speak to the fascinating context of late 19th-century Europe, providing rich links to the cultural, social, and political issues of the day.

Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886–1904 offers a rare opportunity to examine these works of unusual beauty and perception. Highlights of the exhibition are:

  • Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890; undoubtedly one of the most remarkable images of the movement, this canvas presents the fascinating art critic standing against a kaleidoscope of colors that explores Neo-Impressionist theory.
  • Albert Dubois-Pillet, Mademoiselle B.; painted by a self-taught artist who was a professional solider, and 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 and energetic brushwork, this canvas is the best Neo-Impressionist example of the artist’s remarkable self-portraits.
  • Henri-Edmond Cross, Madame Hector France; a life-size portrait and one of the most ambitious compositions attempted by a Neo-Impressionist.
  • Théo van Rysselberghe, the IMA’s exhibition reunites a stunning trio of full-length portraits of the Sèthe sisters, painted by Belgium’s most prolific Neo-Impressionist portraitist.
  • Georges Lemmen, The Serruys Sisters – a haunting double portrait of great originality and a primer of the Neo-Impressionist method.

The exhibition premiered earlier this year in Brussels, the city that contributed so strategically to the movement, at the ING Cultural Centre. Indianapolis will be the only American venue. As holder of one of the world’s finest Neo-Impressionist collections, the IMA is the logical organizer of this project. The Museum is grateful to the Musée d’Orsay, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and all the other institutions and private collectors in Europe and the United States, who have generously shared these highly prized works of art with a new generation of viewers.

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated 256-page 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 is the first comprehensive survey of Neo-Impressionist portraiture.

The exhibition catalogue can be purchased in the Museum Store or online for $47.50.

Exhibition Interactives

Discover the artists, their style, the intriguing people they depicted, and the culture of their times using one of the several interactive experiences available in the exhibition:

  • Pick up an audio guide to hear the inside story of key portraits — the artists, their subjects, and their techniques.
  • Learn more about Neo-Impressionism, its artists, and related art movements, or zoom in on details of selected paintings using iPads stationed at benches throughout the exhibition.
  • Try some color experiments to understand the defining characteristics of the Neo-Impressionist technique.
  • Put the artists and their models in context by watching videos about late 19th-century Europe — including its politics, art scene, and fashion.
  • Pointillize yourself! Use one of the apps available in the exhibition to create a digital self-portrait linking you to the portraits of Face to Face.