The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is one of Georges Seurat’s most famous works. It is a perfect example of pointillism technique on a large canvas. Seurat’s composition depicts Parisians at a rural 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.

Seurat spent over two years painting this masterpiece and he focused with meticulous detail on the landscape of the park. He reworked the original and completed numerous 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 center. Today it is part of a Paris business district.

Seurat was inspired by optical effects and perceptions of colour. He experimented with miniature 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 normal brushstrokes.

Huntington Theatre Company production of Sunday in the Park with George

A photo of the Huntington Theatre Company performing the musical of “Sunday in the Park with George”

This painting inspired “Sunday in the Park with George” a 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 numerous 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 extremely disciplined and steered his own direction. He wanted to make a difference in the history of art and with this painting and he succeeded.

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Essential Facts:

  • 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

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                   Georges-Pierre Seurat
  • Birth:                     1859 – Paris, France
  • Died:                      1891 (aged 31) – Paris, France
  • Nationality:          French
  • Movement:          Post-Impressionism, neo-impressionism, Pointillism
  • Notable works:
    • Bathers at Asnières, 1884, National Gallery, London
    • Le Chahut, 1889–90, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
    • A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–1886, Art Institute of Chicago
    • Young Woman Powdering Herself), 1888–90, Courtauld Institute of Art
    • The Laborers, 1883, National Gallery of Art Washington, DC.

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“Of course one should not drink much, but often.” Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Photo Credit: 1) Georges Seurat [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By The Huntington [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons