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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Georges Seurat

Mix Master
About Mr.B

Georges Seurat: December 2,1859-March 29, 1891...France

"Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science."
~Georges Seurat

The first of these Post-Impressionist artists that we will examine is Georges Seurat. His father was a quiet lawyer who was often withdrawn from most people. He was only home one day a week and preferred to be alone, working in his garden. Qualities he would pass along to his son. Young Seurat was first exposed to painting by one of his mother’s brothers, Paul Haumonté-Faivre. Uncle Paul was a textile dealer as well as an amateur painter. Seurat grew into a well dressed and secretive person. He was serious and studious: he would not spend money going out with friends, but would rather spend his money on books. Through his studies he had developed a curiosity for color theory as well as interests in the science of optics. Seurat learned of Ogden N. Rood’s color theories. Rood had discovered, among other things, that colors will look different, depending on the colors they are next to. He took some drawing classes from sculptor Justin Lequien in 1875, before moving up to his studies at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1878 under Henri Lehmann. Although he personally liked the Impressionists, it was during his art training that he began to dislike the soft style of the Impressionists. He began his career in 1880 and would go on to found a new concept of art production. He wanted to fuse Rood’s color ideas with his passion for paint. "I long to create something new, a kind of painting that is entirely my own." Seurat would make solid forms by building up small dots packed together. The viewers eye did the mixing. Originally, this dotted style was labeled as "divisionism." Seurat disliked this name so he tried to rename it to "chromo-luminarism." However, the public, galleries, and critics preferred the name by which we know this art today: "Pointillism." Seurat was very systematic with his approach, means, and overall production of art. He saw art more like a scientist looking at a lab experiment. He also had set work hours and a set system for painting. He was completely loyal to this method and his ideas of how art was to be created. Although many artists admired he had only a few that worked in that style. The first other artist to be influenced dramatically by Seurat was Paul Signac. Soon they would band into a group of pointillist painters, consisting of: Seurat, Signac, Albert Dubois-Pillet, Charles Angrand, Maximilien Luce, Camille Pissarro, and Lucien Pissaro.

Seurat took a year off from creating art, 1879, to serve in the military. He liked the order he found in the military and spent his off time sketching the people around the base and ships in the port. He Went back to Paris in 1880 where he was motivated to mastering pencil and charcoal drawing. “Originality depends only on the character of the drawing and the vision peculiar to each artist.”

Seurat began to get very interested in working on some large canvas paintings. One of his most known and recognized of these large works was the Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Un Dimanche Après-midi sur l'Ile de la Grande Jatte). “Under a blazing mid-afternoon summer sky, we see the Seine flooded with sunshine . . . people are strolling, others are sitting or stretched out lazily on the bluish grass.” He began the project in the summer of 1884. The project began with well over two-hundred sketches and studies being created for this work. All of his time and focus went into this one work. Studies were done on sight by day and work was organized and later placed onto the canvas at the studio by night under gas lamps. There are over three and a half million marks that were made by mixing the six primary and secondary colors (he used no black, white, or brown paint) on the canvas. After completing the work, it was first placed on display at the 1886 Impressionist show. It was the main attraction at that years show, witch ended up being the groups last event. The painting had a new and different look when comparing this to the true Impressionists. A young critic named Felix Fénéon called Seurat a “Neo-Impressionist” after that show. Post-Impressionism was born with Seurat and his Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
1884-86. Oil on canvas. 81.75 x 121.25 inches. Art Institute of Chicago, Il. USA.

How does an artist come up with that starting price for a work of art? "I compute my expenses on the basis of one year at seven francs a day." A down to earth system and an extremely low cost for a Seurat painting. He was gaining popularity, but not the financial rewards that will often come with being known. He wanted full credit for his ideas and for his original techniques, but the artwork, well, those were just the results from his ideas and techniques. Nothing more. “I apply my method and that is all there is to it." In mid-1889 he was nearing the age of thirty and chose to move to a new studio. This studio’s location was not told to his family or friends. Why? Was he working on a project so secret he feared it would be seen before it was revealed to the art world? Well, not exactly, no. He was living with a model, Madeleine Knobloch, who was pregnant with their child. His son, Pierre George, was born on February 16, 1890. Seurat gave the boy his name and legally accepted this son as his, but refused to introduce the baby or the child’s mother to his own mother. Two days before his death, Georges Seurat would introduce his new family to his mother. Having contracted meningitis and died at the age of thirty-two. Most, including Signac, thought he had worked himself to death. His son would die shortly after.

For any artist to make such a great impact on his own time in such a short time is amazing. Seurat started his career at twenty-three years old and died at thirty-one, but still made a profound influence not only on his own time, but also on art history to this day. Wow! This is power.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063