Halftime Leisure

A Dreamy Reality: Neoimpressionism at the Phillips

October 9, 2014

To establish the Dream of realities…to strive for the pursuit of the Intangible and meditate—in silence—to inscribe the mysterious Meaning.–Henry van de Velde, 1890

Do we dream of realities or do we seek to make realities dreams? Amidst the stress of midterms, presentations and large coursework, reality sits upon our shoulders like a heavy burden, weighing down harder as we hunker into our studies. I doubt that we are dreaming for this kind of reality, a reality in which it’s easy to forget the beauty of a cloudless day or the joy of laughter from a passer-by. Our external realities become too real and obscure the imagination and cultivation of dreams.

The neo-impressionist movement, which began in the mid-1880’s sought to capture the inner world of the mind, not its external realities. The artists used imagination to transport viewers away from the real world and into dream like states. Entering the third floor of the Phillips Collection, a broad palette of colors flooded the walls. Hues of bright yellows, burnt oranges, and soft pinks contrasted against deep purples and aqua blues that jumped off the paintings. Unlike the impressionists who combined these colors with gentle, flowing, and blended strokes, the neo-impressionists kept the pigments separated, allowing the viewer to finish the painting with their eyes and create the final product.

I began to slowly wander around the room, piecing the dots together, letting the vibrant colors morph into one, attempting to capture the essence and mood of each painting and became entranced with a piece called Setting Sun. Sardine. Fishing. Adagio by Pail Signac, one of the founders of the new pointillism style characteristic of neo-impressionism. The initial blue, murky water lining the bottom of the painting gradually transformed into a bright, glittering yellow sky, creating a halo around the boats floating in the horizon on the golden sea. Signac named the painting Adagio, instilling a musical element into the painting. The small, dark boats move up and down, much like musical notes on a scale while the ripple of the water plays a lyrical melody, creating a symphony of the sea. Signac transforms this seemingly normal scene of boats into a musical composition and dreamlike place.

The neo-impressionists sought this dreamlike state by slowing down life and finding timelessness and emptiness in daily life. Turning the corner into the third room of the exhibit, I came face-to-face with a sense of emptiness and awe, of being alone despite the visitors walking around me. The painting Seashore, Point of Toulinguet by artist Luce Maximilien depicted a large, rocky cliff saturated with dark purple blues curving out into a rippling, clear and crisp yellow and blue sea. Although the waves lap onto the small beach, the scene appears frozen in time. The only sign of life is a small, dark silhouetted and solitary figure wandering the top of the cliffs, barely discernible in the great expanse of the sea and rock. I imagine myself on top of that cliff, confronted with nothing, quietness and solitude my only companions. Maximilien encourages the viewer to dream in front of nature, slow down time, and create a space of stillness, a seemingly sacred and scarce place in the business of our lives.

The museum on a quiet Tuesday morning transformed into a sacred place for an hour, allowing me to be silent, away from all distractions, and meditate, encouraging me to look for dreams amidst my realities.

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