GEORGES SEURAT was born on December 2, 1859, in the rue de Bondy, Paris. His father was a bailiff in La Villette. The limitations of the pious, somewhat bigoted, petty bourgeois family in which he was brought up, if not wholly favorable to his artistic development, do not on the other hand seem to have seriously interfered with it. Pursuing the customary studies until he was seventeen, Seurat at the same time worked in a municipal school of design, near the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Here the main emphasis was laid on copying the dusty plaster casts of antique sculpture which cluttered up the studios of the period. The school was run by a sculptor, Justin Lequien, a winner of second honors in the Grand Prix de Rome, who -- as one of Seurat's colleagues said -- taught his pupils the art of screwing up the nose or the ears after lithographic models.1 It was at this school that Seurat, a serious, disciplined and somewhat reserved young man, made the acquaintance of Aman-Jean. They soon became fast friends, entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts together and studied for four years under Henri Lehmann, a pupil of Ingres.
The alert intelligence of the two young men soon rebelled against the narrowness of the official studios where a degenerate classicism was painfully elaborated by narrow-minded professors who at best were merely competent. So Seurat, his taste for the difficult sharpened by what he had learned, began to seek other pastures for his natural curiosity and was able to resist the academic conceptions which are so often fatal to youthful aspirations. Encouraging his friend to read the books he liked himself -- the Goncourt brothers were his gods just then -- he engaged him in endless artistic and literary discussions.2 For a long time he was completely devoted to Ingres, whose ideas were transmitted to him, considerably coarsened in the process, by the teacher, Henri Lehmann. The influence of Seurat's enthusiasm for Ingres can be seen in his studies from models, most particularly in certain copies from the master, and in compositions which also show the influence of Puvis de Chavannes.
The sketches dating from 1874, mostly copies -- copies of illustrations, of a statue of Vercingetorix, of works by Alphonse de Neuville -- are competent though not spirited. But the young Seurat soon moved towards choicer models