Date of Birth:
02 Dec 1859
Date of Death:
29 Mar 1891
Abstract, Figure, Landscapes, Scenery
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte aged just twenty-five.
The focal point of Seurat's artistic career was the progression and maturation of the science behind color and subsequently art. Seurat's theories led him to develop Pointillism, which was a vibrantly different artistic style where paintings were comprised of tiny colorful dots.
Whilst Seurat's career went from strength to strength his private life was mostly marred by controversy. Seurat, who was from a wealthy background is said to have fathered two children by his mistress in seclusion away from his family. The prominent artist was rumored to have died in his studio from diphtheria.
Such a theory was further alluded to and directed towards potential artists by Charles Blanc, who was directly inspired by Chevreul's initial findings.
Seurat himself adopted the findings and formed the style of pointillism, which portrayed scenes through the use of points of colors in close proximity to each other in order to depict a scene.
Georges Seurat is credited as being a painter who entered the art world at a very important time in the Impressionist movement. When Seurat began his pointillist technique Impressionism had lost a great deal of its initial momentum. It was in dire need of a new style of painting and Seurat's scientific take on art fit this demand perfectly. Europe was in a degree of industrial and scientific change and through his art Seurat reflected this social and economic shift.
Georges Seurat was born Paris on 2nd December 1859. His mother, Ernestine Faivre, was also born in Paris and his father, Antoine Chrisostome was born in Champagne and was a legal officer. His father spent the majority of his time in a cottage in Le Raincy, whilst his mother tended to Seurat and his siblings in Paris.
Georges Seurat showed an interest in drawing from a very early age and studied with some notable figures in his tender years. This included French sculptor Justin Lequien and Henri Lehmann from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
Aged 20 Seurat left the Ecole des Beaux after finding a great deal of inspiration from the book 'Essai sur les signes inconditionnels' or 'Essay on the Unmistakable Signs of Art' in English. This book by Humbert de Superville was one of many that had a significant effect on Seurat's artistic direction.
After a brief spell in the army Seurat returned to the tutelage of Lehmann, but by now his views on art were beginning to diverge a great deal from his mentor. After leaving the school Seurat moved with friend and fellow artist Edmond-Francois Aman-Jean to the island of La Grande Jatte in 1881. This move served as one of Seurat's biggest inspirations and it was on the island that the artist painted one of the defining pieces of his career.
Seurat's first seminal piece, Bathers at Asniéres, was rejected by the Paris Salon in 1883 and such rejection took its toll on the artist. Instead of making repeated admissions to the Salon, Seurat instead turned his back on conventional artistic exhibitions. Instead he joined ranks with the Groupe des Artistes Independants, whose credo was the advancement in theories in relation to modern art.
Here amongst other artists who had felt the biting rejection of the Salon Seurat's works found a welcome audience. Amongst the circle of artists Seurat befriended Paul Signac and with him shared his increasingly strong views about pointillism. Signac, realizing Seurat's vision for modern art, began to paint in a similar style.
Such initial recognition would soon turn into national praise when Seurat completed his two year mural-sized project, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The work was a large display of the exact style of pointillism and its size and unique technique garnered a great deal of praise from the Impressionist exhibition where it was first displayed.
After painting Sunday Afternoon, Seurat moved to another studio with model and Mistress Madeleine Knobloch. Knobloch gave birth to Seurat's first son in February of 1890, Pierre Georges.
Georges Seurat died on 29 March 1891, only months before the death of his second son. The reasons for Seurat's death are unknown but the most widely believed cause was diphtheria as his eldest son also died from the same condition shortly after. At the time of his death Seurat was working on his final artwork, The Circus, which was left unfinished.
Many artists including Georges Seurat favored the Conté crayon due to its range and its softness. Its ability to portray a great deal of varying effects is second to none and for this reason it was a popular sketching tool among artists.
Seurat started his artistic career under the tutelage of sculptor Justin Lequiene and later continued his artistic progression in the École des Beaux-Arts with teacher Henri Lehmann. Seurat's style in his early career was marked by his mastery of black and white drawings.
Seurat's inclination to master the technique of black and white drawing stemmed from the artist always being in a hurry and drawing allowed him to depict a scene at a rapid pace.
In his early career Seurat also enjoyed using drawing to portray the essence of light, and black and white drawing seemed like the perfect medium for this. Even after Seurat cemented his artistic style of pointillism, he was still an artist that saw the benefit in planning things out in pencil drawings before bringing them to life with paint. Like other artists, Seurat utilized Conté crayon for his shades of black, whilst the white of the paper served as his luminous shades of white in order to contrast with the black.
Seurat's mastery of black and white drawing meant that his pieces were often meticulous in their detail and such a technique is highlighted by his brush stroke. The artist was known to begin his sketched pieces short, firm parallel strokes or faint outlines. Such a technique controls the depiction of moonlight in the piece and gave more definition to his figures.
Seurat would also often scrape off parts of the finished piece in order to highlight certain areas of the finished drawing.
Georges Seurat's later career was marked by his keen interest in the science of color. Charles Blanc's 1867 work: Grammaire des arts au dessin was specifically targeted at artists and is said to have had a great impact on Seurat.
The theories on color were based around the basic principle that if two colored dots overlapped that third color would be formed. Such a process meant that there was never a need to blend colors together and that the artist's dream of colors remaining as vibrant as when they were first squeezed from the paint tube could be actualized.
Color palette - Seurat's use of color is directly linked to his theories on science and emotion. His studies of literature on the subject meant that the artist believed that he could use color to evoke emotion and create harmony in his art. Seurat sought to use color in increasingly experimental ways and thought of it as a new language, a vision of art based on his own heuristics.
Seurat named this language 'chromoluminarism'. In A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte Seurat's warm use of color supports his language and the only darkened portions of the piece are the shades of black which comprise the shadows. The rest of the image is portrayed in startling brightness.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte also shows off Seurat's talent for pointillism on a grand scale. Rather than portraying two colors blended on a canvas, such a brush stroke technique entails dots of color being closely placed next to each, in order to allow the viewers eyes to optically blend the dots from a distance.
Grammaire was a book inspired by the initial studies of color by figures such as Michel Eugéne Chevreul, David Sutter and Ogden Rood. The scientists were able to put into plain terms theories about color, perception and optical effects that were first originated by Isaac Newton and Helmholtz.
Chevreul was a particularly important figure as he first crafted the color wheel, which put into simple visual terms the relation of primary and intermediary hues. Grammaire was a version of such treatises in terms that were easier for artists to understand and upon reading it, it was said to have had a profound effect on Seurat.
Blanc's work was said to make mention of styles and techniques which could have and eventually did have a direct application for the Neo-Impressionists.
Ogden Rood and the juxtaposition of color:
Rood's theories on color were also known to have had a distinct impact on Seurat and the other Neo-Impressionists. As opposed to basing his studies on Newton's theories, Rood's were based more on Helmholtz's ideas on the juxtaposition of material pigments.
Like Chevreul, Rood believed that if two colors were placed close together they would create a third color. The benefit of such an artistic style would be that colors would be represented in their purest form as they are in the paint tube. Such a theory was readily adopted by Seurat in his formation of pointillism.
David Sutter and Charles Henry:
The final piece of the pointillism puzzle stemmed from Sutter's 1880 work Phenomena of Vision. In his book the scientist makes references to the harmony of art being not dissimilar to that of music. Such theories were shared by mathematician Charles Henry who, around the same time, was delivering monologues with regards to the emotional relevance of lines and color. Such theories were later adopted by Seurat in his founding of pointillism.
Paul Signac was a Parisian who was destined for a career in architecture before he was inspired to change career paths and pursue his love of painting. The artist was notably influenced by some of the great Impressionist figures of his era when his path crossed with artists such as Claude Monet and Georges Seurat in 1884. It was then that Signac, upon hearing Seurat's theories on color and painting, became a loyal follower of the artist.
Signac loved to travel and the subject of his work lends well to the bright vibrant style of pointillism. Though not as masterful as Seurat's own pointillist brush stroke, Seurat's own style is a perfect example of pointillism and the artistic method Seurat followed.
Despite moving in vastly different social circles to that of Seurat and Signac, Maximilien Luce was still a follower of Seurat's pointillism painting method. Luce was associated with the Neo-Impressionist movement but due to his working class roots his subject matter was often Realist in its approach. The artist often favored painting landscape scenes of people at work.
Like Camille Pissarro, Luce was an active anarchist in Paris and was imprisoned for such activities for a brief period in 1894.
Criticism of an artistic forerunner
Any criticism of Georges Seurat is tempered by the fact that that artist achieved an enormous amount in his 31 years. Exhibiting his first major work: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte at only age 25, Seurat went on to form a new artistic technique known as pointillism. In addition to this Seurat sparked a movement: Neo-impressionism that would inspire many artists long after his death.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte was Seurat's first major exhibited work and it was received with a mixture of apprehension, curiosity, praise and revulsion. The immense piece stood ten foot tall and was the centerpiece of the Impressionist exhibition. There were those who viewed the piece as "fuzzy" or "messy" because close up Seurat's dotted artwork could not be seen for what it truly was.
Whereas critics and the general public did not seem completely convinced of the complex beauty of Seurat's bold new brushstroke fellow artists did. Renoir famously noted that: "Veronese's Marriage at Cana done in petit point. I cannot imagine it, but neither can I imagine Seurat's pictures painted in broad or blended stroke". Renoir is clearly accepting of Seurat's talent but slightly regretful of the technique he uses in order to display such artistic pedigree.
Fellow Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac is more effusive in his praise of Seurat, citing in a journal that: "He surveyed the scene and has made these very important contributions: his black and white, his harmony of lines, his composition, his contrast and harmony of color, even his frames. What more can you ask of a painter?"
In Modern Art by Mayer Schapiro notes that artists such as Degas and Cézanne had not began to show their full potential at the age that Seurat died. The author is quick to note the promise that the artist showed, painting his masterpiece aged 25.
Schapiro isn't as concerned with the complexity of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte as much as he is with the possibilities that Seurat's unique style allowed. Seurat's work seemed to build on what the Impressionists had begun and allowed the movement to progress in differing ways.
In addition to this Schapiro indicates the breadth of Seurat's influence when he notes that, "If one can isolate a single major influence on the art of the important younger painters in Paris in the later '80s, it is the work of Seurat; Van Gogh, Gauguin and Lautrec were all affected by it."
Seurat's modern day critical reception is tempered by the fact that history has been unable to fully quantify Seurat's influence on some of the most renowned painters of the 19th century.
For further insight into the life and works of Georges Seurat, please refer to the following recommended sources.
• Broude, Norma. Georges Seurat. Rizzoli International Publications, 1992
• Flux, Paul. Georges Seurat (Life and Work Of... ). Heinemann Educational Books, 2002
• Hauptman, Jodi. Georges Seurat: The Drawings. The Museum of Modern Art, 2007
• Russell, John & Seurat, Georges. Seurat. Thames 1989
• Russell, John. Seurat (World of Art). Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1965
• Thomson, R. Seurat and the Bathers. Yale University Press, 1997
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