From a modern perspective, the word anarchy implies subversion, lawlessness, chaos and violence. Neo-Impressionism’s artists embraced anarchy, however, from the opposite perspective – as an ideology that stood for individual liberty, collective sustainability and the idyllic union of labour and industry with nature. The two leading theorists of anarchy whose writings influenced the Neo-Impressionists, Pyotr Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus, were both geographers who wrote of the close links between correct cultivation of the land and ideal anarchist (i.e. liberated) communal living, free from the restraints of centralised government.
Recognising that their cause needed visual representation, anarchist publishers such as Jean Grave, editor of La Révolte and Les Temps nouveaux (New Times), regularly asked Maximilien Luce and others to contribute illustrations to his journals gratis. In 1891 Paul Signac published the essay ‘Impressionnistes et révolutionnaires’ in La Révolte, in which he argued that the Neo-Impressionists’ unique vision of the world supported anarchy by struggling against convention and challenging the prevailing social order. Unsurprisingly, then, visual synergies with anarchism’s aspirations are not hard to find in Neo-Impressionist landscape paintings; echoing, as Neo-Impressionist scholar Robyn Roslak has shown, ‘Kropotkin’s emphasis upon the fecundity of properly managed land and the wealth of agricultural production resulting from it’. Working in the balmy south of France from 1891-92, Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross created quite different Arcadian landscapes that explored a vision of world peace from an anarchist perspective.