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Artists Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat Photo

Georges Seurat

French Draftsman and Painter

Movements and Styles: Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Pointillism

Born: December 2, 1859 - Paris, France

Died: March 29, 1891 - Paris, France

Georges Seurat Timeline

Quotes

"Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science."
Georges Seurat
"Originality depends only on the character of the drawing and the vision peculiar to each artist."
Georges Seurat
"Painting is the art of hollowing a surface."
Georges Seurat
"Harmony is the analogy of contrary and similar elements of tone, of color, and of line, conditioned by the dominant key, and under the influence of a particular light, in gay, calm, or sad combinations."
Georges Seurat

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

Georges Seurat Signature

Synopsis

Georges Seurat is chiefly remembered as the pioneer of the Neo-Impressionist technique commonly known as Divisionism, or Pointillism, an approach associated with a softly flickering surface of small dots or strokes of color. His innovations derived from new quasi-scientific theories about color and expression, yet the graceful beauty of his work is explained by the influence of very different sources. Initially, he believed that great modern art would show contemporary life in ways similar to classical art, except that it would use technologically informed techniques. Later he grew more interested in Gothic art and popular posters, and the influence of these on his work make it some of the first modern art to make use of such unconventional sources for expression. His success quickly propelled him to the forefront of the Parisian avant-garde. His triumph was short-lived, as after barely a decade of mature work he died at the age of only 31. But his innovations would be highly influential, shaping the work of artists as diverse as Vincent Van Gogh and the Italian Futurists, while pictures like Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884) have since become widely popular icons.

Key Ideas

Seurat was inspired by a desire to abandon Impressionism's preoccupation with the fleeting moment, and instead to render what he regarded as the essential and unchanging in life. Nevertheless, he borrowed many of his approaches from Impressionism, from his love of modern subject matter and scenes of urban leisure, to his desire to avoid depicting only the 'local', or apparent, color of depicted objects, and instead to try to capture all the colors that interacted to produce their appearance.
Seurat was fascinated by a range of scientific ideas about color, form and expression. He believed that lines tending in certain directions, and colors of a particular warmth or coolness, could have particular expressive effects. He also pursued the discovery that contrasting or complementary colors can optically mix to yield far more vivid tones that can be achieved by mixing paint alone. He called the technique he developed 'chromo-luminism', though it is better known as Divisionism (after the method of separating local color into separate dots), or Pointillism (after the tiny strokes of paint that were crucial to achieve the flickering effects of his surfaces).
Although radical in his techniques, Seurat's initial instincts were conservative and classical when it came to style. He saw himself in the tradition of great Salon painters, and thought of the figures in his major pictures almost as if they were figures in monumental classical reliefs, though the subject matter - the different urban leisure pursuits of the bourgeois and the working class - was fully modern, and typically Impressionist.
In Seurat's later work he left behind the calm, stately classicism of early pictures like Bathers at Asnières, and pioneered a more dynamic and stylized approach that was influenced by sources such as caricatures and popular posters. These brought a powerful new expressiveness to his work, and, much later, led him to be acclaimed by the Surrealists as an eccentric and a maverick.

Biography

Georges Seurat Photo

Childhood

Georges Seurat was born in Paris December 2, 1859, the youngest of three children. His father, Chrysostome-Antoine Seurat, was a bailiff; his mother, Ernestine Faivre, came from a prosperous family that had produced several sculptors. Seurat's eccentric father had already retired with a small fortune by the time Seurat was born, and he spent most of his time in Le Raincy, some 12 kilometers from the comfortable family home in Paris. The young Seurat lived with his mother, his brother Émile, and his sister Marie-Berthe.

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Georges Seurat Biography Continues

Important Art by Georges Seurat

The below artworks are the most important by Georges Seurat - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Bathers at Asnières (1884)

Bathers at Asnières (1884)

Artwork description & Analysis: Seurat's first important canvas, the Bathers is his initial attempt at reconciling classicism with modern, quasi-scientific approaches to color and form. It depicts an area on the Seine near Paris, close to the factories of Clichy that one can see in the distance. Seurat's palette is somewhat Impressionist in its brightness, yet his meticulous approach is far removed from that style's love of expressing the momentary. The scene's intermingling of shades also demonstrates Seurat's interest in Eugene Delacroix's handling of shades of a single hue. And the working class figures that populate this scene mark a sharp contrast with the leisured bourgeois types depicted by artists such as Monet and Renoir in the 1870s.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884-86)

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884-86)

Artwork description & Analysis: Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte was one of the stand-out works in the eighth and last Impressionist exhibition, in 1884, and after it was shown later that year, at the Sociéte des Artistes Indépendents, it encouraged critic Félix Fénéon to invent the name 'Neo-Impressionism.' The picture took Seurat two years to complete and he spent much of this time sketching in the park in preparation. It was to become the most famous picture of the 1880s. Once again, as in Bathers, the scale of the picture is equal to the dimensions and ambition of major Salon pictures. The site - again situated on the Seine in northwest Paris - is also close by. And Seurat's technique was similar, employing tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint that allow the viewer's eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors blended on the canvas or pre-blended as a material pigment. The artist said that his ambition was to "make modern people in their essential traits move about as they do on [ancient Greek] friezes and place them on canvases organized by harmonies." But the classicism of the Bathers is gone from La Grand Jatte; instead the scene has a busy energy, and, as critics have often noted, some of the figures are depicted at discordant scales. It marked the beginning of a new primitivism in Seurat's work that was inspired in part by popular art.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

La Seine à la Grande-Jatte (1888)

La Seine à la Grande-Jatte (1888)

Artwork description & Analysis: La Seine à la Grande-Jatte of 1888 shows the artist returning to the site of his most famous painting - A Sunday on La Grande Jatte painted two years prior. This later composition demonstrates Seurat's continued interest in form and perspective, but reveals a much softer and more relaxed technique than La Grande Jatte. The soft atmosphere is made up of a myriad of colored dots that mix optically to mimic the effects of a luminous summer day.

Oil on canvas - Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

More Georges Seurat Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Georges Seurat
Interactive chart with Georges Seurat's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Pierre Puvis de ChavannesPierre Puvis de Chavannes
Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresJean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Nicolas PoussinNicolas Poussin
Eugène DelacroixEugène Delacroix

Personal Contacts

Felix FeneonFelix Feneon
Camille PissarroCamille Pissarro
Claude MonetClaude Monet
Édouard ManetÉdouard Manet

Movements

ImpressionismImpressionism

Influences on Artist
Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat
Years Worked: 1874 - 1891
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Henri de Toulouse-LautrecHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Bridget RileyBridget Riley

Personal Contacts

Edgar DegasEdgar Degas
Paul SignacPaul Signac

Movements

Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
PointillismPointillism
Op ArtOp Art

Useful Resources on Georges Seurat

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Seurat: A Biography Recomended resource

By John Rewald

Georges Seurat, 1859-1891: The Master of Pointillism (Basic Art)

By Hajo Duchting

paintings

Georges Seurat (Rizzoli Art Series)

By Norma Broude

Seurat and the Making of 'La Grande Jatte' Recomended resource

By Robert L. Herbert, Neil Harris

More Interesting Books about Georges Seurat
Seurat, Drawing His Way to the Grande Jatte

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
October 26, 2007

How Seurat Worked Up To Sunday Recomended resource

By Holland Carter
The New York Times
August 20, 2004

documentary films

Georges Seurat: Point Counterpoint

A historical/biographical film on Seurat and his study of Pointillism

in pop culture

Sunday in the Park with George - 1984 Recomended resource

Musical by Steven Sondheim
Inspired by the life of the artist

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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