Sunday mornings are great for drinking coffee or tea in your pyjamas while listening to ICA-Belgium’s online Colour Talks!

On Sunday April 25th 2021 at 10h till 11h CET our guest was Robert Hirschler. He shared his innovative views about colour theory and neo-impressionist painting.

Watch the full recording of the event.


Neo-Impressionism, pointillism and divisionism are terms often used interchangeably, but they have completely different meanings. Neo-Impressionism is an art movement which appeared in 1886 and was popular first among French, but soon thereafter also among other, mainly, Belgian, Dutch and Italian painters. Pointillism is the technique of placing small dots of paint close to each other on the canvas, wanting to create (but, as we shall see, not necessarily succeeding in) the optical mixing of different colours. Divisionism is the technique of placing dots, dashes or patches of different (often complementary) colours next to each other, and it may or may not use pointillism as the basic technique.

The theoretical foundation of neo-impressionist painters goes back to the works of Chevreul and Ogden Rood, both well known and, according to contemporary sources, well studied by Seurat, Signac & Co. The scientific novelty in end of 19th century France was the application of complementary colours next to each other, which – at least according to Seurat’s views – should have given a more luminous aspect to these paintings. The somewhat erroneous expectation that the “additive mixing” of tiny dots of primary colours (and here they already knew that in this situation those were red, green and blue) would result in white, or at least in brighter colours than the primaries themselves, caused disappointment. In this paper we shall discuss the difference between additive mixing of lights (as happens in projecting overlapping lights of different colours or in spatial fusion of RGB dots on a monitor) and partitive (averaging) mixing of the reflectance of tiny paint dots (as in a pointillist painting) or that of differently coloured sections of a spinning disk. We shall see the reason for the fascinating impression created by these neo-impressionist painting being the result of the simultaneous contrast effect of neighbouring colours when watched from close and the optical mixing of the same when watched from a distance. According to recent research the dichotomy is also caused by the characteristic of human vision: the colour resolution of the human eye is much lower than the form resolution, and the unique scintillation of these painting seen at a certain distance is the result of our eyes already mixing colours but still distinguishing forms (those of the dots or dashes).


Robert has been actively involved in all aspects of colour theory, colour science and colour technology since 1966. He actively participated in the establishment of the first two colour measurement laboratories in Hungary in the 1970’s and the principal colour measurement laboratory (SENAI/CETIQT) in Brazil in the 1990’s. Between 1988 and 2011 he was involved in establishing new textile engineering, colour measurement and colour design courses and doing research in the field of applied colorimetry. Since 2009 he has been the Chair of the Study Group on Colour Education of the International Colour Association. Robert is active in teaching colour measurement and also colour theory for non-scientist.