Classroom Use of the Art Print

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THINGS TO KNOW Georges Seurat (1859-1891)--along with Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh--is part of a group of late-19th-century painters known as the Post Impressionists. Art historian John Canaday, in his text Mainstreams of Modern Art (Holt; 1981), describes the group: "Fanning out from Impressionism, they explored independently. More than any other painters in the history of art, they developed their theories in isolation, and in contradiction to one another." Canady writes that Post Impressionism is, " ... a term meaning nothing except that these artists departed from Impressionism to find new ways of painting."

During his short career (he died at age 31), Seurat created two paintings that to this day are considered masterpieces of modern art: Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86) and this month's Clip & Save Art Print, Bathers at Asnieres (1883-84). In both, Seurat elevates the subject of leisure and relaxation beyond the Impressionists' treatment of similar subject matter.

Seurat was a quiet, analytical and secretive man; Degas referred to him as "the notary." While working on Bathers at Asnieres, he traveled to the west of Paris to the small town along the Seine River to make studies that would be instrumental in designing the final painting. Some were black-and-white drawings, masterworks of graphic art in their own right, and others were oil sketches.

According to The National Gallery, London's Web site, "He drew conte crayon studies for individual figures using live models, and made small oil sketches on site which he used to help design the composition and record effects of light and atmosphere. Some 14 oil sketches and 10 drawings survive. The final composition, painted in the studio, combines information from both."

Seurat worked on Bathers for over a year. Upon its completion, he admitted it to the official salon of Paris, where it was flatly rejected. Although the work was on a monumental scale, such paintings traditionally accepted by the salon depicted historical epics or biblical scenes, not views of the working class. After the rejection, Seurat exhibited the painting with a group of avant-garde painters who called themselves The Society of Independent Artists (Le Societe Groupes des Artistes Independants). From that point, Seurat aligned himself with modernist precepts, which ultimately led him to develop an entirely original painting method, which would become known as "pointillism."

Seurat was interested in the science of color, and how color and light interact in the human eye. His interest in optics inspired him to develop a method of painting based on current scientific theories: pointillism. (Seurat's method has also been referred to as "divisionism.") Seurat's painstakingly exact method of applying paint to create the illusion of solid form involved placing tiny dots of pure color, taken directly from the tube, whereby from a distance the eye would merge and blend the dots to create a unified form.

"Seurat attempted to analyze the exact proportions of the components of a tint, to separate them into the colors of the spectrum, and then to apply them with scientific precision so that their optical blending would produce not only the tint but also the degree of vibration he wanted. The surface of his canvas becomes a kind of 'molecular dance' in contradiction to the absolute precision of the forms within which these myriads and myriads and myriads of dots spin and quiver." (Canaday; I981. …