Seurat showed works similar to The Lighthouse at Honfleur in 1886 at the eighth and last impressionist exhibition, an event that established him as a leading modernist. Based on new theories about optical characteristics of light and color, Seurat invented a technique called pointillism, or divisionism, as a scientifically objective form of impressionism. Seurat juxtaposed minute touches of unmixed pigments in hues corresponding to the perceived local color, the color of light, the complement of the local color for shadow, and reflected color of nearby areas, which in principle will combine visually when viewed from the proper distance. This meticulous technique, less random than impressionism, enabled Seurat to record appearances more accurately while preserving the fresh, natural qualities he admired in impressionist works.
Following the intensive studio campaign leading to the exhibition of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande-Jatte (Art Institute of Chicago), a controversial work also shown at the 1886 exhibition, Seurat spent the summer at Honfleur, a coastal resort near Le Havre. He relaxed by painting local landmarks such as the hospice and lighthouse in The Lighthouse at Honfleur. Balancing warm blond tones in the sand and lighthouse with cool blues in the sky and water and constructing a stable composition around the horizontals of the jetty and horizon crossed by the vertical tower, Seurat created a work of majestic serenity.