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In the 1880s, in the wake of impressionism, the French artist Georges Pierre Seurat {sur-ah'}, b. Dec. 2, 1859, d. Mar. 29, 1891,

Sunday Afternoon

"Sunday Afternoon"
by Georges Pierre Seurat

contributed to French painting by introducing a more systematic and scientific technique known as pointillism or divisionism, in which small dots of color are grouped to create a sense of vibrancy, tending to interact and fuse in the spectator's eye.

As a youth, Seurat copied plaster casts at a municipal art school in Paris and then entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he studied for 2 years. His short career effectively began about 1880, when he was drawn to the technique of the impressionists as well as to the study of color theory and the science of optics;

The Circus

"The Circus"
by Georges Pierre Seurat
Louvre, Paris


at this time he began doing small paintings of stone breakers, peasants, and other people at work. He also developed a soft and smudgy atmospheric technique in working with Conte crayon.

Seurat's first major painting, the Bathing Place, or The Bathers (1883-84; National Gallery, London), has an impressionist subject: people out for an afternoon excursion, relaxing on the banks of the Seine. The work was preceded by numerous oil studies executed with impressionist brushwork. This canvas, however, combines the modeling of each figure in the round with a suggestion of cut-out flatness and frozen, static poses; the atmosphere has a shimmering quality. From this time on Seurat concentrated on a small number of large paintings, epitomizing in their subjects the life-style of contemporary bourgeois Paris.

His A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86; Art Institute of Chicago),

The Bathers

"The Bathers"
by Georges Pierre Seurat
National Gallery, London

preceded by more than 200 drawings and oil studies, is so large and so composed as to resemble a mural. The subject is an island newly adopted by the Parisian middle class as a place of collective recreation; in the painting the typical patterns of activity seem to isolate the figures rather than drawing them together. The technique of pointillism Seurat employed here was adopted by a group of his followers, the neoimpressionists, and was extensively used in early 20th-century art. Seurat himself refined it in later paintings, using less naturalistic colors and shapes and a theory of aesthetic harmony based on line as well as color.

Mark Roskill, Professor, History of Modern Art, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Source: The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9.01, ©1997.
Bibliography: Norma Broude, ed., Seurat in Perspective (1978); P. Courthion, Seurat (1988); Henri Dorra and John Rewald, Seurat (1959); Robert L. Herbert, Seurat's Drawings (1962) and Seurat (1991); William I. Homer, Seurat and the Science of Painting (1964; repr. 1978); Alain Madeleine-Perdrillat, Seurat (1991); John Rewald, Seurat: A Biography (1990); John Russell, Seurat (1965; repr. 1985).
Images: "Sunday Afternoon" (Art Institute of Chicago); "The Circus" (Louvre, Paris/Giraudon/Art Resource, NY); "The Bathers" (National Gallery, London/Bridgeman Art Library).
Copyrights Notice and Disclaimer: Images of artists' works displayed throughout this site have been obtained from numerous sources, including digital libraries at educational institutions, educational software, and Mark Harden's Artchive. Credit is attributed when known. Some works are considered to be in the public domain, based on current U.S. and international copyright acts. For more information on copyright laws, please refer to the Artists Rights Society and Benedict O'Mahoney's The Copyright Web Site. [See also: Copyrights.]

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Seurat Quotations:

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Sources of Quotations: (1) XXXXX. (2) XXXXX.
[The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia University Press. Copyright © 1993 by Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.]

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