From the National Gallery to the Royal Academy

Peter Campbell

The pictures in Radical Light (National Gallery until 7 September) have a technique in common, Divisionism, but not a lot else. The aim was to achieve luminosity by building up tones with thread-like strokes of pure colour – Pointillism with lines, not spots. The eye would create colours, as it creates them from the black, cyan, magenta and yellow halftone dots of printed illustrations. The tints produced would be cleaner than those mixed on the palette. Treatises like Chevreul’s De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs and Rood’s Modern Chromatics encouraged the Divisionists in their experiments. Angelo Morbelli’s In the Rice Fields is a good example of what came of them. A row of young women, skirts hitched up, stand knee-deep in a paddy field. Clothes, skin, the leaves of rice, water and sky, are done in tiny strokes so glossy that the paint glitters – you might think specks of glass had been added to it. Luminosity is indeed achieved, but the price, here and elsewhere, is paid in terms of blunted forms and a limiting uniformity of touch.

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