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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is one of Georges Seurat’s most famous works, and is a leading example of pointillism technique on a large canvas. Seurat’s composition depicts Parisians at a provincial park on the banks of the River Seine. Seurat was one of the leaders of a new and rebellious form of Impressionism called Neo-Impressionism. This large-scale work, altered the direction of modern art by initiating Neo-impressionism and is one of the icons of late 19th-century painting.

Seurat spent over two years painting this masterpiece, and he focused on the landscape of the park with meticulous detail. He reworked the original and completed many preliminary drawings and oil sketches. He concentrated on issues of colour, light, and form. The Island of La Grande Jatte, when Seurat began the painting in 1884, was a rural retreat far from the city centre. Today it is part of a Paris business district.

Optical effects and perceptions of colour inspired Seurat. He experimented with tiny dots or small brushstrokes of colours that when unified optically in the human eye were perceived as distinct colours and objects. He believed that this form of painting, now known as pointillism, would make the colours more brilliant and powerful than regular brushstrokes.

This painting inspired “Sunday in the Park with George” a theatrical musical. The plot revolves around a fictionalised version of Georges Seurat and how he immerses himself in painting his challenging masterpiece. The musical won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, two Tony Awards for design and many other awards. In this musical, George announces to the audience:

“White, a blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole, through design, composition, tension, balance, light and harmony.” 

Seurat was extraordinarily disciplined and steered his own direction. He wanted to make a difference in the history of art and with this painting, and he succeeded.

Georges Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859 – 1891) was a French post-Impressionist artist. He is best known for devising the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism. While less famous than his paintings, his conté crayon drawings have also garnered a great deal of critical appreciation.

Seurat’s artistic personality combined a delicate sensibility and a passion for logical abstraction and mathematical precision. His pioneering techniques relied on the ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to blend the colour spots into a fuller range of tones. It is a technique with few serious practitioners today and is notably seen in the works of Seurat, Signac and Cross. Also in Andy Warhol’s early works, and Pop Art.

Seurat died in 1891 at the age of 31. The cause of his death is uncertain and has last ambitious work, The Circus, was left unfinished at the time of his death.

Divisionism (also called Chromoluminarism)

Divisionism was the characteristic style in Neo-Impressionist painting defined by the separation of colours into individual dots or patches which interacted optically. By requiring the viewer’s eye to combine the colours optically instead of physically mixing pigments, Divisionists believed they were achieving the maximum luminosity scientifically possible.

Georges Seurat founded the style around 1884 as chromoluminarism, drawing from his understanding of the available scientific theories of his time. Divisionism developed along with another technique, Pointillism, which is explicitly defined by the use of dots of paint and does not necessarily focus on the separation of colours.

Pointillism

Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of colour are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the method in 1886, branching from Impressionism. The term “Pointillism” was coined by art critics in the late 1880s to ridicule the works of these artists and is now used without its earlier mocking connotation. The movement Seurat began with this technique is known as Neo-impressionism. The Divisionists, too, used a similar method of patterns to form images, though with broader cube-like brushstrokes.

 A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

  • Title:             A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
  • Artist:           Georges-Pierre Seurat
  • Year:             1884–1886
  • Medium:      Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 207.6 cm × 308 cm (81.7 in × 121.25 in)
  • Museum:     Art Institute of Chicago

Georges Seurat

A Tour of the Art Institute of Chicago

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“Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.”
– Georges Seurat

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM

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