A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

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

George Seurat‘s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte in 1884 is one of finest examples of Pointillism, the term, that originates from the French “point” or “dot”, gained popularity among art enthusiasts and historians, although Seurat himself preferred the term “divisionism” – “the principle of separating color into small touches placed side-by-side and meant to blend in the eye of the viewer. He felt that colors applied in this way—not mixed on a palette or muddied by overlapping—would retain their integrity and produce a more brilliant, harmonious result. The juxtaposed touches of color that are woven together here with short, patchy brushstrokes are more systematically applied, with discrete daubs of paint, in the final work.”*

See Paul Signac’s The Milliners

The painting was first shown at the 1886 Impressionist exhibition in Paris. Seurat had begun the work two years earlier, completing more than fifty studies. Upon Camille Pissarro‘s advice, Seurat painted the final canvas (in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago) with pigments that proved unstable and soon lost their luster. Thus the study seen here (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art permanent collection) provides a vital record of the chromatic intensity he had hoped to achieve.

The figures seem stiff & artificial like toy soldiers, with little interaction with one another. This is possibly the artist’s way of indicating the unique experience of living in the society at the time. And what is the monkey on the leash doing in the picture? The Grande Jatte makes use of symbols – a monkey in French (and female) is known as “singes,” denoting a prostitute. The smartly dressed woman is fishing — but for what?

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