Georges Seurat

An iconic painter of the 19th century, no other artists produced paintings precisely like those of Seurat. Influenced by earlier artists from the 19th century such as the Impressionists, Seurat took his work a step farther. With a quick first glance his paintings can be mistaken for being just another one of the Impressionist’s works. However, Seurat began an art style that is still largely his own. This was Pointillism.

Pointillism is the use of single dot of color at a time. Unlike nearly every artist that came before him, Seurat painted not in brushstokes or sweeping swaths of color but tiny dots of paint that didn’t touch. From a distance a large sweeping painting would be viewed. From very close up, nothing can be seen but the dots of color. It is only from a distance that the painting takes shape and becomes whole. An example of this is A Sunday at La Grande Jatte, one of Seurat’s most memorable paintings.

It isn’t so very unlike a large outdoor scene by Renoir or Monet. However the canvas is much larger than almost any of the Impressionist artists ever worked with. A huge 6 x 9 feet across, the figures are nearly life sized.  Unlike the Impressionist’s work, Seurat’s figures as static, completely frozen in the moment. They do not have the fluid, moving quality of an Impressionist figure, instead seeming to be frozen in place like the people in a photograph. Social classes are also intermingled in this painting, something not often seen in artist’s work. A common, middle class worker lounges on the grass overlooking the water. Behind him in the shadows stand a man and his wife observing the same scene. Two dogs play at the feet of these two well dresses individuals who are clearly of a high class than first. This same intermingles of the higher and lower classes can be seen throughout the piece.

Seurat also produced paintings more akin to posters than to most paintings of the age.Le Chahut is another painting by Seurat, later than the first. Dancers kick their legs up as they dance in a line across the stage. The orchestra plays as they watch the dancers, smiles on their faces. This painting is much more akin to poster promoting a show or special venue rather than a formal painting to hang in a home. This work too is compiled of nothing but thousands of tiny dots, each one varying ever so slightly in shade and tone in order to get just the right light and shadowing for figures and background alike.

By playing on the ideas and values that the Impressionists put forward several decades before, Seurat brought paintings closer to the twentieth century and the art of today. Such a simple, yet painstaking process led to the continued growing of art towards what we understand it as today.

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