seurat, a sunday afternoon on the island of la grande jatte
Explanation of Other Modern French Paintings
NOTE: Seurat’s 19th century colour palette comprised the usual colour pigments of the time, including vermilion, cobalt blue and emerald green. He also used the then-new pigment zinc yellow (zinc chromate), mainly for yellow highlights in the sunlit grass, but additionally in combination with blue and orange hues. Unfortunately, the zinc yellow has gradually darkened to a brownish colour, a process detectable even in Seurat’s lifetime.
Seurat painted A Sunday Afternoon between May 1884 and March 1885, and from October 1885 to May 1886,  focusing meticulously on the landscape of the park. He reworked the original and completed numerous preliminary drawings and oil sketches. He sat in the park, creating numerous sketches of the various figures in order to perfect their form. He concentrated on issues of colour, light, and form. The painting is approximately 2 by 3 meters (7 by 10 feet) in size.
Seurat painted the La Grande Jatte in three distinct stages.  In the first stage, which was started in 1884, Seurat mixed his paints from several individual pigments and was still using dull earth pigments such as ochre or burnt sienna. In the second stage, during 1885 and 1886, Seurat dispensed with the earth pigments and also limited the number of individual pigments in his paints. This change in Seurat’s palette was due to his application of the advanced color theories of his time. His intention was to paint small dots or strokes of pure color that would then mix on the retina of the beholder to achieve the desired color impression instead of the usual practice of mixing individual pigments.
Paul Signac, “The Pine Tree at Saint-Tropez,” 1909 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)
Over the course of art history, certain pieces have come to symbolize entire artistic genres. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David, for example, define the Italian Renaissance; The Scream by Edvard Munch epitomizes Expressionism; and Pointillism is typified by Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon the the Island of La Grande Jatte.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was initially started in 1884 with a layer of small horizontal brushstrokes of complementary colors. Seurat later added small dots that appear as solid and luminous forms when seen from a long enough distance. This was the way he spectacularly proved his theory, showing that employing tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint really can allow the viewer’s eye to blend colors optically. This turned out to be a revolutionary alternative to the way traditional painters went about defining forms within their artworks’ compositions.
Other than the little girl, all of the figures in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte are cloaked in shadow, almost robbed of their identities.
Use of light:
Seurat’s use of light is one of the unique points of the piece. The work is vibrantly portrayed and the magnificence of the sun bathes the scene’s inhabitants in a celestial mid-afternoon glow.
Where the technique of pointillism shows its unique aspect is where the light from the left comes into contact with people and objects in the piece. The blend of such colors is pointillism’s primary concern and as its founder Seurat’s work epitomizes the technique.