A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -1884, 1884-86
Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Oil on canvas, 81 3/4 x 121 1/4 in. (207.5 x 308 cm)
The bright and airy park on the suburban island of La Grande Jatte was a perfect stage set for lmpressionist art. Look closely and describe what is happening in this painting. What can we learn from looking at the activities, clothes, gestures, and expressions of the figures? This painting contains forty characters of different ages, sexes, social classes, and occupations. Can you identify them? What kind of day is it? What do the shadows tell us? Why are most of the people gathered at the edge of the river? Are they enjoying themselves? Find the few accents in the painting that show a sense of motion (a girl running, a small dog in the foreground, and a butterfly).
Like Caillebotte, Seurat made many preliminary drawings and oil sketches for his final work. He experimented with brushstrokes, color placement, and figure positioning until he achieved his desired effect. At the Art Institute, examine the oil study hanging near this painting. Discuss how the brushwork in the study differs from that in the final painting. Analyze the colors in the study. Are they similar to colors in the final painting? Do any of the figures from the study appear in the finished painting?
1. Seurat explored color, light, and form based on the most up-to-date treatises in color optics and visual perception. Seurat allows his viewers’ eyes to mix colors by placing pure colors side by side. He did not use brushstrokes in the usual sense, but rather applied tiny strokes, dots, and dashes to the surface of the canvas. While at the Art Institute, examine Seurat’s skillful color placement and record which colors are placed next to each other. Then move away from the painting. At what point do the colors seem to blend together? What new colors have been created by this optical mixing?
2. Discuss leisure activities which take place outside today and list some possible locations, such as parks, zoos, urban high-rise sundecks, or even shopping malls. Using cut-out pictures from magazines, make a collage of a group of people enjoying their leisure today. Place some of the figures and groups close to the viewer (foreground); place others further away (background). Are there any "props" needed to further identify the setting, such as sailboats, animals, pipes, embroidery, or musical instruments?
Alternative: Create a large-scale collage as a class, depicting a leisure activity that a large group can participate in (such as attending a music festival or participating in a sport). Discuss how the location will be depicted and what collage materials will be used. Pay particular attention to the distinction between the foreground, middle ground, and background. Refer back to A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884 for ideas about color and composition.
3. Georges Seurat applied several nineteenth-century scientific developments to his painting. Research the work of the French chemist, Michel Eugéne Chevreul (1786-1889), author of On the Harmony and Contrast of Colors; the Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), author of Perception of Color; and the American artist and color scientist Ogden Rood (1831 - 1902), author of Modern Chromatics. After studying these theories, try to determine which were utilized by Seurat in A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -1884.
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