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Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat, 1888
Born (1859-12-02)2 December 1859
Paris, Second French Empire
Died 29 March 1891(1891-03-29) (aged 31)
Paris, French Third Republic
Nationality French
Field Painting
Movement Post-Impressionism, neo-impressionism, Pointillism
Works A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Georges-Pierre Seurat, (2 December 1859 – 29 March 1891) was a French Post-Impressionist painter.

Seurat painted for a time with the Impressionist painters, Claude Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Pissarro. His scientific ideas about colour then led him to develop a different painting technique. He painted in tiny dots of colour, with the theory that the viewer's eye would mix them. This technique is called "pointillism".

Seurat and his followers are often referred to as the Neo-Impressionists ("New Impressionists"). His most famous paintings are A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886) in the Chicago Art Institute and Bathers at Asnières (1884) in the National Gallery, London.

Family and education

Seurat amand-jean
Seurat's first exhibited work - Portrait of Edmond Aman-Jean, shown at the 1883 Salon

Seurat was born on 2 December 1859 in Paris, at 60 rue de Bondy (now rue René Boulanger). The Seurat family moved to 136 boulevard de Magenta (now 110 boulevard de Magenta) in 1862 or 1863. His father, Antoine Chrysostome Seurat, originally from Champagne, was a former legal official who had become wealthy from speculating in property, and his mother, Ernestine Faivre, was from Paris. Georges had a brother, Émile Augustin, and a sister, Marie-Berthe, both older. His father lived in Le Raincy and visited his wife and children once a week at boulevard de Magenta.

Georges Seurat first studied art at the École Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin, near his family's home in the boulevard Magenta, which was run by the sculptor Justin Lequien. In 1878 he moved on to the École des Beaux-Arts where he was taught by Henri Lehmann, and followed a conventional academic training, drawing from casts of antique sculpture and copying drawings by old masters. His formal artistic education came to an end in November 1879, when he left the École des Beaux-Arts for a year of military service.

After a year at the Brest Military Academy, he returned to Paris where he shared a studio with his friend Aman-Jean, while also renting a small apartment at 16 rue de Chabrol. For the next two years, he worked at mastering the art of monochrome drawing. His first exhibited work, shown at the Salon, of 1883, was a Conté crayon drawing of Aman-Jean. He also studied the works of Eugène Delacroix carefully, making notes on his use of color.

Bathers at Asnières

Baigneurs a Asnieres
Bathers at Asnières, 1884

He spent 1883 working on his first major painting - a large canvas titled Bathers at Asnières, a monumental work showing young men relaxing by the Seine with other bathers in a working-class suburb of Paris.

Seurat completed the painting of in 1884, when he was twenty-four years old. He applied to the jury of the Salon (France's most popular art exhibition) of the same year to have the work exhibited there, but the jury rejected it. Seurat then showed it at a less popular smaller exhibition (Groupe des Artistes Indépendants) in May 1884. The Bathers was not widely appreciated during the artist's lifetime. An appreciation of the painting’s merits grew during the twentieth century, and today it hangs in the National Gallery, London, where it is considered one of the highlights of the gallery’s collection of paintings.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–86, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago

In summer 1884, Seurat began work on A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

The painting shows members of each of the social classes participating in various park activities. The tiny dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer's eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors physically blended on the canvas. It took Seurat two years to complete this 10-foot-wide (3.0 m) painting, much of which he spent in the park sketching in preparation for the work (there are about 60 studies). It is now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Seurat made several studies for the large painting including a smaller version, Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1885), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City.

The painting was the inspiration for James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George.

Society of Independent Artists

In 1884, Seurat and some other artists – including Charles Angrand, Henri-Edmond Cross, Albert Dubois-Pillet and Paul Signac – set up a new association, the Société des Artistes Indépendants (Society of Independent Artists), that started organizing massive art exhibitions in Paris.

Pointillism

Seurat-La Parade detail
Detail from Circus Sideshow (Parade de Cirque) (1889) showing pointillism and color theory

Pointillism is a way of painting in which small separate dots of pure color are used to form images. The artist paints the picture with hundreds of tiny dots, mainly of red, yellow, blue and green, with white. The eye and mind of the viewer mix the colours to make different shades of these colours, as well as orange, purple, pink, and brown depending on the way the dots of colour are arranged.

Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed this technique in 1886. Other important artists were Camille Pissarro and, in some paintings, Vincent van Gogh. Art critics who saw their work, laughed at it and called it "Pointillism" as an insult. This name is still used, but is no longer thought of as an insult.

Traditionally, artists blend pigments (mix colours) on a palette. Pointillist painters do not mix the colours on the palette at all – they just use the colours straight from the tube. Traditional painters, and also impressionist painters, use many types of brushstrokes, and many textures of paint. The surface of the painting may have flat colour, lines, squiggles and dabs of paint. In a pointillist painting, every part of the picture is done in tiny dots, and most of the dots are about the same size. Pointillism is usually done in oil paints, because they are thick and do not run into each other when they are painted on the canvas.

Death

Seurat died in Paris in his parents' home on 29 March 1891 at the age of 31. The cause of his death is uncertain, and has been variously attributed to a form of meningitis, pneumonia, infectious angina, and diphtheria. His son died two weeks later from the same disease. Seurat's last ambitious work, The Circus, was left unfinished at the time of his death.

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