Clip & Save Art Notes

By Carroll, Colleen | Arts & Activities, September 2009 | Go to article overview
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Clip & Save Art Notes

Carroll, Colleen, Arts & Activities

ABOUT THE ARTIST The French painter Georges Seurat (pronounced ser-AH) is best known for the masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86), perhaps the most significant painting to celebrate leisure and recreation to ever be created. Born to a wealthy family, Seurat attended art school at the celebrated Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1878, studying under a former student of the great French Neoclassical painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Although Seurat is considered a Post-Impressionist (a term used to describe a group of painters who challenged and moved beyond Impressionism while that movement was still relevant), his classical training would eventually bring him to a mature style that could be described as the polar opposite of Monet's. Indeed, Seurat has been referred to by art historians as a "counter-Impressionist."

After a year of military service in 1879, Seurat set up a studio in Paris and spent the next two years perfecting his drawing skills. Seurat was a meticulous draftsman, and spent hours creating preparatory drawing studies for his oil paintings. He used black conte-crayon on Ingres paper, a type of grainy white drawing paper. Seurat's drawn figures have a weight and three-dimensional quality akin to sculpture.

In describing Seurat's drawing method, art historian Aimee Brown Price wrote, " ... one is hard put to find a ready-made verb for his very special manual act that writers elsewhere have described as rubbed surfaces, a characterization which suggests smudging and is certainly not right for his pristine blacks on whites. From the grainy surfaces on which skeins of black, or precisely graduated fields of black are laid down in seemingly simple geometries, figures and scenes emerge magically, unexpectedly and arrestingly." (Art in America; Dec. 1997.)

In 1883 he began studies on Bathers at Asnieres, this month's featured Clip & Save Art Print, which he completed in 1884. After the composition was rejected by the official salon, it was included in and became one of the main attractions in the exhibit of the Societe Groupe des Artistes Independants, a show organized by a handful of artists whose avant-garde art was considered substandard by those who occupied the juried committees of the salon.

He immediately began work on La Grande Jatte, in which he developed what would become known as Pointillism, Seurat's method of applying and juxtaposing tiny dots of pure pigment to the canvas. His method was based on the color theories of Delacroix and on the science of optics. (To see a close-up detail of Georges Seurat's brushwork, go to

In Art, Vol. I, 2nd Edition (Prentice-Hall Abrams; 1985), noted art historian Frederick Hartt accurately compared these dots of color to tesserae, the component pieces used in Classical and medieval mosaics: "Each patch of light, each area of shadow, is composed of countless such particles, of almost identical size and shape. From close up, their colors appear absolutely pure, the quality of shading or color transition being controlled by the numerical proportion of colors of varying value or hue. Although these are intended to mix in the observer's eye, the mixture is never complete, and the little spots retain their autonomy, like the notes in music, giving the picture even at a distance a grainy texture."

The canvas, completed and exhibited in 1886, was unveiled to mixed reviews.

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