Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities

Painting, Poetry, Music

September 27, 2014 - January 11, 2015

Exhibition Images

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

The fascination with the imagination, the dream, or the intangible, so eloquently defined by artist Henry van de Velde in 1890 as the goal of Neo-Impressionism, was shared by many of his colleagues. It was nurtured in large part by the interactions between Neo-Impressionist painters and Symbolist writers and composers since the mid-1880s. Paris, capital of the art world at the time, and Brussels, home to the influential avant-garde group Les XX, became two centers that facilitated these exchanges.

Georges Seurat and his friends had presented their new, pointillist manner of painting—baptized Neo-Impressionism by critic Félix Fénéon—for the first time as a group in 1886 in Paris where it drew immediate attention. That same year a group of writers had published a definition of Symbolism in literature that called for a focus on the inner world of the mind rather than external reality. Neo-Impressionist painters and Symbolist poets in Paris and Brussels, where the new style was first exhibited in early 1887, shared friendships and established an ongoing dialogue about the role of the imagination in a work of art rather than the exact representation of the visual world.

Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities presents more than 70 works that reflect the Neo-Impressionist’s preoccupation with the idea, emotion, or the synergy of senses, particularly from 1888 to 1895, when adherence to the group was at its height and relations with Symbolist writers were especially fruitful. Featuring 15 artists—including renowned artists such as Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, and Camille Pissarro alongside their lesser known contemporaries—the exhibition welcomes to the Phillips works that have rarely or never before been exhibited in the United States. From idealized landscapes to expressive portraits and figural compositions that highlight their interest in literature and music, the artists created evocative images that went beyond observed reality.

The exhibition is organized by The Phillips Collection.

Neo-Impressionists and Symbolists

The Neo-Impressionists’ circle extended into other artistic spheres. The shared interests between Neo-Impressionist painters and Symbolist writers and composers as well as their personal friendships led to a variety of collaborations. Theo van Rysselberghe, for example, made illustrations for the books of Symbolist poet Emile Verhaeren, while Maximilien Luce and Paul Signac designed covers for the musical compositions of Symbolist composer Gabriel Fabre. Many of the writers published reviews about the works of their painter friends in journals and newspapers.

One of the major topics of discussion centered on the relationship among the various art forms. Poetry and music were considered especially effective forms of expression, as the spoken or sung word could touch the imagination of the listener more directly than a painting. Inspired by the expressiveness of music, some painters even thought of their paintings in terms of musical movements, as Paul Signac did by including opus numbers in the titles of many of his paintings. Van Rysselberghe’s portraits of Irma Sèthe and Anna Boch also spur the senses of the observer by evoking the sound of music.

The painters frequented popular theaters, the circus, and music halls, experiences that informed their work. Georges Seurat’s depictions of popular entertainment, such as Le Chahut or his café concert scenes invite the viewer to perceive the songs being performed and to envision the lively atmosphere of the music hall. Sketching during stage performances and concerts, and depicting popular dances and sideshows, the artists tried to engage a synergy of senses.

Paul Signac, L’Orgue, Cover design for the composition by Gabriel Fabre on a poem by Charles Cros, c. 1891. Lithograph with watercolor additions, 14 1/4 x 11 in. Gift of John Rewald. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


NeoImpressed photosNeo-Impressionist artists, like Symbolist poets and composers,sought to evoke certain moods, feelings, and experiences through their work. They utilized color, stylization, and compositional elements to create atmospheric, dreamlike worlds.

Create your own “dream of realities” using this self-portrait app modeled after the Neo-Impressionists’ techniques. Snap a self-portrait, pointillize it, then customize it by selecting the dot size, applying color effect, and adding your signature.
Share your photograph by e-mailing it and posting it on Facebook or Instagram with #NeoImpressed. Our favorite photographs will also be featured on the Phillips blog.

Dream House of Realities

Neo-Impressionist painters relied on the use of the surreal grounded in reality to create scenes of mystical, dreamlike beauty. Their use of vibrant colors helped them capture a certain mood and tone. The Phillips Collection wants to know what vibrant colors and textures you would use to decorate your dream home! Enter our Dream Home of Realities Pinterest contest for a chance to win a grand prize that might make the walls of your dream home become a reality.

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • $500 worth of Farrow & Ball gift vouchers
  • A Farrow & Ball color consultation: a personal in-home color consultation with a trained Color Consultant from the new Farrow & Ball DC showroom in Friendship Heights. The Color Consultant will consider the light in the space, the shape of the room and architectural details, as well as the overall look you are trying to create before recommending a color scheme using Farrow & Ball paints and wallpapers.

Find out how to enter to win on the Phillips blog

Join Les XX at the Phillips, a society which provides cardholders with special access and privileges at the museum and around Washington, DC. Participation is free!

Les XX at the Phillips

Les XX at the Phillips invites young professionals to engage with the museum and neighborhood partners using a Les XX membership card throughout the run of the exhibition. Les XX members receive perks at the Phillips including admission to the Neo-Impressionism exhibition, select Phillips after 5 programs, and invitations to private events. In addition, the Phillips is working with a range of community partners to secure discounts, special access or amenities, or member-only experiences for Les XX members.

Receiving and Activating Your Card

To redeem and activate your Les XX card, visit the Phillips and mention "Les XX" at the admissions desk. Your first perk will be free admission to the Neo-Impressionism exhibition, and you have unlocked special access and privleges around Washington, DC.

Benefits at the Phillips

  • First admission free
  • 20% off at Tryst at the Phillips café (see details below) and the museum shop
  • Free drink at one Phillips after 5 event. Choose from: October 2, November 6, or December 4. Limit one per cardholder

Community Partner Benefits


  • 15% discount on any visit
  • UPDATE: SOLD OUT. 15% discount on Neo-Impressionism class package on Nov. 11, 7-8:30 pm, including studio time, canvas, and drink. Online reservations highly recommended; select "I Have a Voucher or Gift Card" reservation option and present card to bar manager upon arrival. Make a reservation

Béarnaise Restaurant

  • Four Neo-Impressionism themed cocktails, $7 each

Belle Aurora Designs

  • 20% off purchase of product or fully custom invitation, card, or artwork. Use promo code LESBELLESXX at checkout

Café Bonaparte

  • 20% off any sweet crepe. Not available on weekends; MondayFriday only

Dolcezza Gelato & Coffee

  • 10% off purchase at any location

Firefly Restaurant

  • Unlock two Neo-Impressionism themed cocktails: Night Café (Pierre Ferrand Cognac, Yellow Chartreuse, Kaffemoka, Tobacco Bitters) & Beyond the Meridian (Kappos Pisco, Suze, Senior Curacao, Grapefruit, Szechaun Buttons), $13 each
  • Create-a-cocktail class:

Neo-impressionism, Absinthe + the Rise of Café Culture, Saturday, December 6th, 3-4 pm, $20
This class focuses on the drinking culture and the rise of cocktail making becoming a more artistic endeavor in France around the time of Les XX; sample and learn about absinthe and cocktails of the time period, including the famous Earthquake, Maiden's Blush and Aviation. Space is limited; purchase seats by emailing or by calling 202-861-1310 and mention promo code Les XX.

Grooming Lounge

  • Complimentary hot lather shave with purchase of other service of equal or greater value at Grooming Lounge Men's Barbershop/Spa. Limit one per Les XX cardholder

iCi Urban Bistro

  • 15% off lunch, dinner, or Le Bar purchase. Not valid during breakfast and cannot be combined with other offers


  • 15% off purchase from stock
  • 20% off custom orders (shirts and suits).

Cannot be combined with any other promotion offered in the store

La Jolie European Skincare

  • Complimentary eyebrow shaping with purchase of other service at La Jolie European Skincare. Limit one per Les XX cardholder

Looped Yarn Works

  • Free Beginner Knit or Crochet Class with 10% off materials. Pick the class that fits your schedule from the Looped calendar and call to register at 202-714-5667; mention that you are a Les XX cardholder.


  • 2-for-1 macarons. Limit one per Les XX cardholder

Naked Decor

  • 25% off purchases. Use promo code lesxx at checkout

Napoleon Bistro

  • 2-for-1 secret Neo-Impressionism cocktails at the bar. Cocktail changes monthly. Not available in lounge after 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays

Pure Barre

  • 15% off any full-priced class packages
  • 10% off any full-priced retail* in-studio. *Pure Barre branded apparel excepted.
  • Les XX Private Pure Barre class, Saturday, Nov. 22, 2:30 pm. Space limited; please RSVP to

Redeem in-studio only. Discounts valid during promotional period only. All classes must be used by January 11, 2015. Discount limited to 3 class packages per client. Not valid on any pre-discounted package, including memberships, the new client special, baby bounce back, or bride to be package. No cash value, not transferable, not valid with any other promotion or discount.

salon nordine

  • Complimentary blowout with purchase of other service at Salon Nordine.  Limit one per Les XX cardholder

stubble & 'stache

  • 15% off online product purchases. Use promo code LesBeardXX at checkout
  • Invitation to grooming and fashion events. DATE/TIME TBD 


  • 10% off purchases over $100. Excludes sale items and furniture. Cannot be combined with other discounts

Tryst at the Phillips café

  • 20% off purchase

Washington National Opera

  • Invitation to La Bohème preview event, Monday, October 27, 6 pm
    Join the director and artists for a look behind the scenes of La Bohème. Les XX cardholders also receive access to view the Orchestra Tech Rehearsal, and discount ticket offers for performances. Space limited; RSVP required. RSVP to Kathryn Ruff at

WINK Boutique

  • 15% off purchase


Thank You To Our Les XX at the Phillips Leaders!

Quanda Allen
Carmiel Arbit
Carl Bedell
Tiffany Chen
Laura Deming
Ayanna Dunn
Stephanie Fischer
Todd Galaida
Fran Holuba
Tanveer Kathawalla
Spike Mendelsohn
Micheline Mendelsohn
Carlos Merizalde
Gregory Nelson
Laura-Gail Smith
Paige Speyer
Marguerite Thompson
Lindsey Vaala
Jimmy Yeh

Exhibition Sponsorship

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Support provided by Morgan Stanley and the Robert Lehman Foundation 

Brought to you by the Exhibition Committee for Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: John and Gina Despres, Charlotte Cameron and the Dan Cameron Family Foundation, and Melissa J. Thompson

With support from the Musée d’Orsay

Additional in-kind support provided by