First I want to introduce the era that Seurat helped found. Seurat was one of the fathers of post-impressionism. Artists took new interest in color shape and line, and began experimenting a lot with the science behind how color works- how you can blend it and contrast it to create depth and volume. But for Seurat, at least, even though he was a revolutionary in his technique, his style was still largely influenced by impressionism. The subjects he painted were similar to impressionist subjects – painting urban leisure of the middle class or lower borgeouis and like the impressionists, he tried to capture all of the colors that interacted in a scene.
Just a bit of a timeline to put his life in perspective. It’s pretty amazing how prolific Seurat was throughout his short career. He left 6 major canvases….etc. He always knew he wanted to become an artist, and it was only interrupted a little when he was in the military in 1879. In the short decade of his most mature work, he created a tremendous amount of work and throughout his whole life developed a whole new era of painting. But he died really young at age 31.
This is just a comparison of how Seurat’s personality and qualities seemed to influence his style of painting, because they definitely had a lot to do with each other. He was known as being a really quiet, introverted person. In fact, towards the end of his life he was living with a model who was his mistress and had a 1 yr old son, but nobody knew this until he died. Seurat is known for his methodical approach to painting. He always planned and organized everything before even beginning to paint, so nothing was really spur of the moment. Another factor in this was his attitude that science and theory played into painting. Seurat dedicated most of his life to serious study and research of scientific and geometric theories about color and lines and expression, which are essential to understanding his works. You’ll see and I’ll point out in his most famous works how the research he was doing lead to the creation of his own theories about painting, and how they appear when he applies them directly to his works. Seurat was definitely revolutionary, as he is the father of pointillism, a technique he developed after studying color. It involves using tiny dots of many colors to create more vivid tones, but I’ll go into the details of that later. Basically, he was considered radical at the time, but he had many followers like Van Gogh and Signac and Cross, and was influenced by the works of Pisarro and Delacroix.And like I said earlier, just something to keep in mind is that his subject matter is often similar and highlighted class distinctions of Parisian society.
What many people don’t know, and what I didn’t know about Seurat is that he began as mostly a drawer. In his early years of training at the école des beaux arts in Paris, he did mostly sketches and compositions. He was okay with that though, because he trusted the art critics and teachers that said that you must master drawing before turning to paint, and that since painting introduces the complex element of color, it’s best to know how do draw well first. The painting on the left is actually really rare, because Seurat is thought to have destroyed most of his early work, and because he didn’t really start turning to color and paint until 1882, but this just shows that his earliest style has very little indication of where he would eventually go with his painting. He would move away from the impressionist painting and portrait painting with soft brush strokes quickly and develop his own style.The drawing on the right was actually accepted by the Salon into the Academie Des Beaux Arts, a very rigid and elite art exhibit held in Paris. It’s a sketch of a friend of his at the art school. It’s ironic that it was displayed by the Salon, since on the next slide, I show his next big painting, which quickly rejected by the Salon.
This painting is Seurat’s first large canvas that he produced at age 24. It represents the beginning of his mature painting career, but also marks the beginning of his revolutionary work that started the neo-impressionist movement. After his work at the school of art and his military service, Seurat began to apply all of his theoretical research to his art. Here, even though he hasn’t developed his pointillist style yet, he uses a series of controlled balayé strokes, and the composition is very geometric. Nothing was accidental, everything had a purpose and was experimented with a lot of prep work. The bank divides the picture diagonally, and the horizontals and verticals are balanced through the simple outline of figures. There are obvious references to the lower middle class/working class. The people are average males enjoying a recreational sunny swim at the river, and the tone is calm. The tricolor flag on the ferry shows that the lower middle class is being taken to the Grande Jatte, which is kind of foreshadowing his most famous painting on the next slide. It’s obvious why this was rejected by the Salon, because it was moving far away from the naturalist impressionist style of the era. When it was rejected, Seurat left and exhibited it at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants. That’s where he became a member for the rest of his career, and where he met his best friend who he influenced greatly – Paul Signac.
Very soon after the Bathing painting, Seurat began to work on his second and most famous large canvas. You’ve probably seen this painting before, and it is famous for many reasons. It is also a big milestone in Seurat’s career, because after this piece, he became known as a revolutionary and he was very controversial, but had many followers that lead to the whole neo-impressionist movement.There are two major theories that appear to be applied clearly in this piece. The first is from Charles Blanc, who thought that color is controlled by fixed laws, that like music, could be taught. You can see this applied in the pointillism aspect of the piece. Seurat also developed his technique based on Chevreul’s theory of color, which was about how juxtaposing primary and secondary colors could produce more intensity of color and create more light. So in pointillism or divisionism, the little tiny dots of colors that aren’t the color of the subject are blended together in the big picture to highlight and contrast vivid colors. Some things to point out are the subjects- they are mostly lower middle class. One example is the monkey next to the woman with the big butt. The monkey identifies her as a prostitute, and middle class woman were unlikely to walk alone. So since she’s shown next to a man with a top hat, if it weren’t for the monkey, they would look like a respectable couple. You can see in the final canvas the pointillist style which he applied in the final stages of the work. Also known as the chromo-luminarism technique, it involves optical mixing and applying colors in small touches so that they fused in the eye of the viewer to form other colors and illuminated the effect at a distance.The visual effects and color experimentation and the complex representation of different social classes established Seurat as the leader of the new avant-garde.
Another note about how much Seurat valued preparation and organization – he made about eighty studies before making the final canvas for this piece. This is just showing some of the oil sketches he made before painting the actual canvas. He methodically planned out different arrangements for placing figures and trees and the size and shape of the shadows. The setting for the piece is the island “La Grande Jatte” which appeared in the corner of Une Baignade. The island was converted into a park for leisure, but the people that came were not from high society Paris. Most people in the painting are from lower-middle class.
In Seurat’s later works, you can see a large difference in style. In the late 1880s, Seurat spent many summers along the Normandy coast painting seasides, and finished them in his studio in the winter. They were pointillist, but the dots were finer and more spaced out. He also began to associate with a close group of Symbolist artists, and started to paint idealized objects and scenes. He depicted popular entertainment spots of Paris nightlife. Unlike his previous paintings that were vibrant in color, these works had a more muted palette.Le Chahut and The Circus both intended to be satires to expose the class conflicts of the late 1800s. It was based on a poster at the time advertising performances of the Chahut dance that was indecent at the time. For example, the pig-nosed client is meant to symbolize a frequent that visited the dance halls and took advantage of treating the lower class dancers as sex-objects. But this work was methodical geometrically, by means of the directions of lines. These aesthetic principles are basically that happy tone = warm dominant of color, lines above the horizontalcalm tone = balance of light and dark, balance of warm and cold and line by the horizontalsad tone = dominance of dark and cold colors and line by downward directionsAlso, Charles Blanc inspired the simple changes in direction of lines of the mouth and eyes, altering expressions from joy to sadness.In The Circus, his last work that he never fully completed, you can see that in the audience there is a hierarchy of society with the higher class distinguishable from the lower class by their proximity to the stage. Also, unlike his earlier works that featured static figures, this painting has tons of movement and a sinister atmosphere- the evil grin of the clown and the angular features of the performers, depicts lost innocence and artifice.
material examination yields a different image of Seurat from the one we may have had. Figures were changed in the revision process, he went back and added pointillist technique. So not everything was planned out exactly, or maybe it was, but it changed once he actually began painting.
You can tell how much thought and energy went into each of his pieces, and how he used his theoretical knowledge of color and space to create effects rather than just experimenting and calling it art.
Georges Seurat By Hava Kane
Post-Impressionism• Era following impressionism 1880s-1900• Artists rejected impressionist standards, but sprung from them• New interest in color, shape & line• Avoided realistic color• Rejected rules of perspective
Background• 1859 born in Paris to well-off family• 1878 joined École Des Beaux Arts• 1881-1891 career as artist • left 6 major canvases, 60 smaller ones, 170 wood panels and many drawings• 1891 died at age 31
Personality & Style• Shy and secretive • Painted his mistress and had a son nobody knew about• Methodical • Planned and organized everything before painting• Studious • Researched and applied aesthetic theories of color and geometrics• Revolutionary • Started neo-impressionism with his pointillist/divisionist style• Empathetic to working class • Paintings that highlight class distinctions
Early WorksHead of a Young Woman Aman-Jean 1877-79 1880
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1884-1846
Later WorksLe Chahut The Circus 1889-90 1890-91
Critique• “How Seurat Worked Up To Sunday” • The New York Times• “He wasnt a scientific prodigy who happened to end up in art, but a prodigious artist learning on the job.”
In My Opinion• I admire how methodical Seurat was about his work, and how revolutionary he was for his time• I like pointillism and vibrant color• I like how his works are usually recognizable just by the style
Bibliography• http://www.renoirinc.com/biography/artists/seurat.ht m• http://www.theartstory.org/artist-seurat-georges.htm• http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/20/arts/art-review- how-seurat-worked-up-to- sunday.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm• Bingham, Jane. Post-Impressionism. Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library, 2009. Print.• Seurat, Georges, and Sarah Carr-Gomm. Seurat. London: Studio Editions, 1993. Print.