sunday afternoon seurat
The huge work (7 feet in height; 10 feet in width) caused a sensation. Not only did it exude a shimmering impression of warm, hazy sunshine, but the stylized, statuesque nature of its figure painting exuded a timeless and monumental quality. Unlike the fleeting naturalism of Monet (1840-1926) and Renoir (1841-1919), which captured the momentary perceptions of the artist, La Grande Jatte was painstakingly planned from start to finish in the manner of a Greek frieze, and its (often) symbolic content positively invites careful scrutiny.
Seurat’s first major pointillist work was Bathers at Asnieres (1883-4, National Gallery, London). Although rejected by the official Paris Salon, the work was shown at the Salon des Independants, an alternative event co-founded by Seurat himself, where he met fellow pointillists Paul Signac (1863-1935) and Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910), who helped him to further develop the idiom. Shortly afterwards Seurat began painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which took him two years to finish. It was exhibited for the first time in May 1886 at the final Impressionist exhibition: an ironic occurrence since the work is now seen as one of the first major examples of Post-Impressionist painting (1880-95).
“Confronting his subject,” Signac explained, “Seurat, before touching his little panel with paint, scrutinizes, compares, looks with half shut eyes at the play of light and shadow, observes contrasts, isolates reflections, plays for a long time with the cover of the box which serves as his palette, then . . . he slices from his little heap of colors arranged in the order of the spectrum the various colored elements which form the tint destined best to convey the mystery he has glimpsed. Execution follows on observation, stroke by stroke the panel is covered.”
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.
The Art Institute of Chicago, A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June 1–November 1, 1933, cat. 370.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925.
Some of the characters are doing curious things. The lady on the right side has a monkey on a leash. A lady on the left near the river bank is fishing. The area was known at the time as being a place to procure prostitutes among the bourgeoisie, a likely allusion of the otherwise odd “fishing” rod. In the painting’s center stands a little girl dressed in white (who is not in a shadow), who stares directly at the viewer of the painting. This may be interpreted as someone who is silently questioning the audience: “What will become of these people and their class?” Seurat paints their prospects bleakly, cloaked as they are in shadow and suspicion of sin. 
In Topiary Park (formerly Old Deaf School Park) in Columbus, Ohio, sculptor James T. Mason re-created the painting in topiary form;  the installation was completed in 1989.
Forging the new style with this first-of-its-kind painting, Seurat became the father of Pointillism and of Neo-Impressionism. However, he preferred to call his technique “chromo-luminarism,” a term he felt better stressed its focus on color and light.
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