Georges Seurat

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Georges Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat (December 2, 1859–March 29, 1891) was a French post-Impressionist artist. He is best known for devising the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism. Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image.

Georges Seurat followed a conventional academic training, drawing from casts of antique sculpture and copying drawings by old masters. Seurat’s studies resulted in a well-considered theory of contrasts. His formal artistic education came to an end in November 1879, when he left the École des Beaux-Arts for a year of military service. After a year at the Brest Military Academy, he returned to Paris where he shared a studio with his friend Edmond Aman-Jean, also an artist, while also renting a small apartment. For the next two years, he worked at mastering the art of monochrome drawing. His first exhibited work, shown at the Salon of 1883, was a Conté crayon drawing of Aman-Jean. He also studied the works of Eugène Delacroix carefully, making notes on his use of color.

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Portrait of Edmond Armand-Jean by Seurat

Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières was rejected by the Paris Salon, so he showed it at the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants instead in May, 1884. Soon, however, disillusioned by the poor organization of the Indépendants, Seurat and some other artists he had met through the group set up a new organization, the Société des Artistes Indépendants. Seurat’s new ideas on pointillism strongly influenced the other artists in the new society.

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Bathers at Asniéres by Seurat

In summer 1884, Seurat began work on A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The painting shows people participating in various recreational activities. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer’s eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors physically blended on the canvas. It took Seurat two years to complete this 10-foot-wide painting, much of which he spent in the park sketching in preparation for the work (there are about 60 studies). A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886), altered the direction of modern art by initiating Neo-impressionism, and is one of the icons of late 19th-century painting. The painting was the inspiration for James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George.

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

During the 19th century, the scientists Michel Eugène Chevreul, Ogden Rood and David Sutter wrote treatises on color, optical effects and perception. They adapted the scientific research of Hermann von Helmholtz and Isaac Newton into a form accessible to laypeople. Artists followed new discoveries in perception with great interest.

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Parade de Cirque by Seurat

Seurat took to heart the color theorists’ notion of a scientific approach to painting. He believed that a painter could use color to create harmony and emotion in art in the same way that a musician uses counterpoint and variation to create harmony in music. He theorized that the scientific application of color was like any other natural law, and he was driven to prove this conjecture. He thought that the knowledge of perception and optical laws could be used to create a new language of art based on its own set of principles and he set out to show this language using lines, color intensity and color schema. Seurat called this language Chromoluminarism.

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Les Poseuses by Seurat. Note A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte hanging on the wall.

Seurat’s theories can be summarized as follows: The emotion of gaiety can be achieved by the domination of luminous hues, by the predominance of warm colors, and by the use of lines directed upward. Calm is achieved through an equivalence/balance of the use of the light and the dark, by the balance of warm and cold colors, and by lines that are horizontal. Sadness is achieved by using dark and cold colors and by lines pointing downward.

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The Seine and la Grande Jatte – Springtime by Seurat

Seurat fell in love with Madeleine Knobloch (1868–1903), an artist’s model whom he portrayed in his painting Jeune femme se poudrant. In 1889 she moved in with Seurat in his studio. He hid their relationship.

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Jeune femme se poudrant by Seurat

When Madeleine became pregnant, the couple moved to a studio at 39 passage de l’Élysée-des-Beaux-Arts (now rue André Antoine). There she gave birth to their son, who was named Pierre-Georges, on February 16, 1890.

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The Laborers by Seurat. Notice the thick brush strokes.

Seurat died in Paris in his parents’ home on March 29, 1891 at the age of 31. The cause of his death is inconclusive, attributed to meningitis, pneumonia, infectious angina, or diphtheria. His son died two weeks later from the same disease.

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Landscape at Saint-Ouen by Seurat. This one seems almost impressionistic.

It’s amazing that an artist with such a short career had such a profound impact on the art of his day.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

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