• gerard van weyenbergh

Georges Seurat, his art, + video

A leader of French neo-impressionism, Georges Seurat (1859 - 1891) renewed Impressionist modernity by infusing it with a good dose of classical culture combined with scientific rigor. The quality of his line has earned him to be compared to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. A mysterious figure, a hard worker, Seurat worked with Paul Signac on the divisionist theory, based on a rationalized approach to colors. With its technical pointillist, the artist who died at the age of 32 had a lasting impact on the late XIXth century modern art.

He said

"Art is harmony. Harmony is the analogy of opposites, the analogy of similars, tone, color, line. "


His life

Born into a bourgeois family, Seurat turned to academic education by completing his apprenticeship alongside Henri Lehmann, an Ingres student. In his early days, Seurat favored drawing and charcoal, a technique with which he revisited the great masters of the Dutch tradition.

In 1883, Seurat was refused at the official Salon where he presented Une Baignade in Asnières. The painter wishes to go beyond Impressionism by having recourse to the classical tradition, an admirer of Claude Monet. An avid reader, he is familiar with Charles Blanc's theories on the arts of drawing and color, based on a scientific approach. Its originality is mainly due to this appetite for scientific culture, especially optics.

The following year, Seurat took part in the first Salon des Indépendants, without a jury or award. La Baignade à Asnières impresses young artists, including Paul Signac. The latter helps Seurat develop the divisionist theory, based on the chromatic circle's knowledge, the harmony of colors. He is interested in Charles Henry's theory of dynamogeny (the correspondence between lines and colors). In 1886, Seurat presented in this same Salon his manifesto in painting: A Sunday afternoon on the island of Grande-Jatte.

Seurat intends to position itself as a rival to Monet. Like the impressionist painter, he practices series of landscapes which attest to his taste for Japonism. But Seurat's work, less naturalistic than his elders Impressionism, adopts a Symbolist orientation: the artist wants to freeze time and space.

After painting six masterpieces, of great application due to his meticulous pointillist technique, Seurat died suddenly in 1891, a few months after Vincent Van Gogh. Then begins the second phase of the neo-impressionist movement, embodied by Paul Signac.


His key works

La Grande Jatte, Art Institute of Chicago

Oil on canvas • 207.6 × 308 cm • Coll. Art Institute of Chicago

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–1886

In a landscape reminiscent of Impressionism places (the banks of the Seine), Georges Seurat places characters with the unreal appearance of puppets. No naturalism in this scene: it is an idealized view of reality. Seurat stands out from Impressionism to reconnect with an imaginary world, with Arcadian tones. In certain respects, he is linked to the example of his elder brother, the Symbolist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, whose talent he admired.

Circus Parade, MET NY

Oil on canvas • 99.7 × 149.9 cm • Coll. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York • © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Circus parade , 1887–1888

A testament to Seurat's attraction to artificial lighting in a nocturnal context, this work represents the popular world of the circus. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who treated the subject in a realistic vein ( Edgar Degas , Fernand Pelez, etc.), Seurat favors a mysterious and timeless vision. With a ghostly appearance, its musician seems to be a character from the depths of the ages, from ancient Egypt for example. Seurat attaches great importance to the geometry of forms and uses complementary colors as required by the divisionist theory.

Circus , Musee d'Orsay

Oil on canvas • 186 × 152 cm • Coll. Orsay museum, Paris

The Circus, 1890–1891

The painter's last great work, which remained unfinished, Le Cirque is a fairly straightforward application of the theories defended by Seurat: the laws of geometry, the correspondence between lines and colors, the use of complementary colors to achieve a maximum of harmony. Once again, the artist stands out from moderns such as Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who have treated this theme in a more naturalistic vein. Seurat is a man of theory: he wants, through this painting, to combine science with art.

© Beaux-Arts Magazine

See 135 works by Georges Seurat in video