George Seurat: Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

During the late 19th century Impressionism became very popular among artist that did not want to follow the typical techniques of Realism. George Seurat’s art is part of Impressionism but more specifically Post-Impressionism, which is an extension of Impressionism. George Seurat (1859-1891) was not completely satisfied with the techniques being used during Impressionism, which lead him to expand his ideas and use bright primary colors such as yellow, red, and blue and also create a new technique known as pointillism. Artists such as Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin all had their own unique styles within the Post-Impressionism period but they all shared similar characteristics which unified them all into this period. Post-Impressionists rejected the idea of empiricism used in Realism and Impressionism so that they could create art that was more monumental, universal, and visionary.(1)
George Seurat was born in Paris, France. At age fifteen he became student at an art school and then at age eighteen he entered the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts.(2) Seurat studied art from different civilizations such as Greek, Assyrian, and Egyptian as well as works by impressive artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, but more specifically Eugene Delacroix, a Romantic period artist who focused on expressive brushstrokes and divisionist colour effects.(3) After studying at the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts he did his military service and was sent to the seaport of Brest where he was inspired in his paintings by the scenes found at this place which consisted on the sea, beaches, and boats. Upon his return from military service he lived and studied with an artist by the name of Aman-Jean, both artists did not agree with the Ecole de Beaux-Arts so they decided to leave and go on trips to the island of La Grande Jatte, which became an inspiration for many of his paintings.(4)
Later on George Seurat became friends with Paul Signac, another artist of the time. These two artists began a new movement in art known as Neo-Impressionism. This new movement consisted on making the brushstrokes more even, smaller, and into round spots.(5) The round spot became a dot, also known as point which is where the term Pointillism derives from. This technique consists on making tiny dots on the canvas but without blending the colors on the palette or on the canvas. The different colored dots are put close together creating an image that would have been created by the brushstrokes. The colors were being mixed in the eye when observing the painting as a whole. This technique lead George Seurat to create Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Once Seurat finished this piece of art he worked on other pieces of art but a few years later he died leaving a great contribution to the history of art.
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is a great example of art that reflects the techniques being used during the time. This piece of art encompasses Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Neo-Impressionism. From Impressionism, Seurat used bright colors, painted en plein air, and also kept the anti-bourgeois and anti-academic attitude.(6) From the Post-Impressionism he used the small brushstrokes and purer colors. Finally, from the Neo-Impressionism, which is the movement that Seurat began, he used the dots to create figures throughout his paintings.
Looking at this piece of art from the Christian worldview might be hard to do as there is no religious connection but there are other aspects to this work that make it worth calling beautiful. When looking at it with close attention one can see the minute details that have been present in this work. One can observe how the colors come together in the eye, not in the painting itself. Seurat was well gifted at creating a new technique in art but he also was able to show how vast the capacity of the human imagination is to use something as simple as a dot and make it into a beautiful painting. Seurat’s work shows a good example of the beauty and imagination that God gave us in order to use it to make wonderful things for our own entertainment.