Georges Seurat
French, 1859–1891
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884
1884–86

Oil on canvas
81 3/4 x 121 1/4 in. (207.5 x 308.1 cm)
Inscribed at lower right: Seurat
Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224

Influenced by the Impressionists’ experimentation with color, Post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat worked with innovative techniques. On an enormous canvas, the artist depicted city dwellers gathered at a park on La Grande Jatte (literally, "the big platter"), an island in the River Seine. All kinds of people stroll, lounge, sail, and fish in the park.

Using newly discovered optical and color theories, Seurat rendered his subject by placing tiny, precise brushstrokes of different colors close to one another so that they blend at a distance. Art critics subsequently named this technique Divisionism, or Pointillism. The artist visited La Grande Jatte many times, making drawings and more than 30 oil sketches to prepare for the final work. With his precise method and technique, Seurat conceived of his painting as a reform of Impressionism. The precise contours, geometric shapes, and measured proportions and distances in Seurat’s masterpiece (not to mention its monumental size) contrast significantly with the small, spontaneous canvases of Impressionism.

Over the past several decades, many scholars have attempted to explain the meaning of this great composition. For some, it shows the growing middle class at leisure. Others see it as a representation of social tensions between modern city dwellers of different social classes, who gather in the same public space but do not communicate or interact.