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Georges Seurat (1859 – 1891)





Georges Seurat


Birth name Georges-Pierre Seurat

Born 2 December 1859

Died 29 March 1891

Nationality French

Movement Post-impressionism Neo-impressionism


Seurat and his friend Signac reacted against the casual informality of Impressionism. They felt Impressionism was becoming fossilized, so they evolved a new method founded on strictly scientific principles, in order to “reconstruct” this disintegrating form of art, codify and reorganise it. So Neo-Impressionism came into being founded on the technique of divisionism and pointillism.   All Seurat's work, in drawing, as well as in painting, depended on this theory of the laws of contrast. He was the son of a sheriff’s officer from La Villette, and came from a very devout and relatively prosperous family. He stayed at school till he was sixteen and at the same time attended a municipal art school, under the sculptor Justin Lequien, who had been runner-up in the Grand Prix de Rome competition. At the art school, Seurat became very friendly with Aman-Jean, and later they both went to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and worked under Henri Lehmann who had been a pupil of Ingres. During 1882 and 1883 he spent almost all his time drawing. He had a very original style  and his black and white work is lively and expressive, with a sensitive lyrical quality.
During his brief career Seurat executed some four hundred drawings in Conte pencil.
But in 1884 the pictures he sent to the Salon were all refused, including his first important large-size painting, Bathing at Asnieres. It was subsequently exhibited from 15 May to 1 July at the Salon des Independants, of which he was a founder member, the others being Signac, Redon and Dubois-Pillet. 402 artists took part in the exhibition which was held in some huts put up in the Cour des Tuileries. Bathing at Asnieres stands half-way between Impressionism and the new Neo-Impressionist
technique. Seurat's theory of contrasts was strictly applied, giving the picture an unusual rhythm and static quality, but the brushstrokes are not yet really divided and
pointillist technique is not yet used.  In 1885 Seurat went to paint at Grandcamp: Le Bee du Hoc; The roadstead at Grandcamp; Sunset, Grandcamp. He met Signac at the Salon des Independants, and following his advice began to paint like the Impressionists, using pure colours only. Signac also introduced him to Camille
Pissarro. It was about this time that Seurat painted his masterpiece Sunday afternoon at the island of La Grande ]atte, after doing a number of preparatory sketches and drawings. He showed this picture at the eighth and last  Impressionist exhibition, then again at the second Salon des Independants, and finally in 1887 at the Exposition des Vingt in Brussels. This large picture, with its perfect composition and balance and its beautiful luminous quality expresses the new theories and methods of the Neo-Impressionists, and brilliantly reveals the harmony of Seurat's art. The perfect balance between heat and cold light and shade, horizontal and vertical, express the 'calm' of a beautiful sunny day with people walking about and resting in a landscape where nature herself is subject to the laws of harmony and serenity. Seurat went to Honfleur during the summer of 1886 and there painted several seascapes, severe in composition but with delightful colours and shadows. Unlike Impressionists Seurat was attracted by large canvases that gave him the opportunity of expressing his theories in paint.  In the summer of 1888 he went to Port-en-Bessin to paint landscapes. In 1889 he was at Le Crotoy painting. He exhibited several landscapes of the channel coast at the 1889 Salon des Independants, and then began Le Chahut in which he tried to demonstrate his theory of dynamism, according to certain definite rules.
After a visit to Gravelines, he spent the winter of 1890-1891 painting The Circus, applying the same theories. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to finished this picture. Seurat died prematurely on 29 March 1891.

Based on M. Serullaz, Phaidon Encyclopedia of Impessionism, Phaidon, 1978




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