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Scholars have examined the paintings they produced from several perspectives: as the application of science to art, as social commentary, as a reflection of political philosophies, and as a precursor to many concepts of 20th-century aesthetics. Perhaps because Seurat's great initiative was rooted in the desire to re-create natural light and the sensation of brilliant color, the primary vehicles for analyzing the technique have been landscapes, marines, and scenes of urban life. As a result, Neo-Impressionist portraits have received scant attention.

The first Neo-Impressionist portraits were painted in Paris in the 1880s, decades after the invention of photography had made realistic likenesses widely available. While physical resemblance remained a basic component of portraiture, artists of the era were also free to emphasize their individual techniques, their pursuit of psychological or spiritual identity, and their rapport with their subjects.

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