Paintings by Georges Seurat


Georges Seurat joined the Impressionists after catching the interest of original member Camille Pissarro. Informed by recent discoveries in optical theory, Georges Seurat had developed a method of applying dots of pure pigment on his canvas in close juxtaposition, simulating the action of individual rays of light. Seurat proposed that the viewer's retina -- rather than the painter's brush -- would blend the colors, recreating in paint the luminous and vibrant effect of looking at nature.

Georges Seurat made his triumphant debut at the Impressionists' eighth exhibition. Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande-Jatte was the centerpiece of the show's final room. Epic in scale, Seurat's painting addressed a subject long associated with Impressionist painting: people in a public park on a sunny afternoon. But in contrast to the fleeting sense of momentary observation that had become the hallmark of Impressionist plein air painting, Georges Seurat's painting featured rigorous formal organization, a strategy a contemporary critic termed Neo-Impressionism.

Although it shattered the now-conventional perception of Impressionism as an unmediated rendering of fleeting visual sensations, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande-Jatte by Georges Seurat embodied the independent and progressive spirit of the initial Impressionist experiment.

Below are some links to Seurat's most famous painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande-Jatte, as well as a few others that helped cement his reputation as one of the fathers of Neo-Impressionism.

  • Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte: This Impressionist painting by Georges Seurat pioneered a more formal approach to art that came to be called Neo-Impressionism. Find out about Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte by Georges Seurat, which debuted at the final Impressionist exhibition.
  • Bathers at Asnières: Seurat's painting Bathers at Asnières exhibits Seurat's structural approach to painting that differed from traditional Impressionism. Learn about this painting, which Seurat completed in 1884.
  • Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp: Seurat's unique approach, sometimes called Pointillism, is evident in his painting Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp. Learn about Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp, by Georges Seurat.
  • The Models: Georges Seurat completed The Models in 1886-1887. Read about this Impressionist painting, which features a depiction of Seurat's own Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte in the background.
  • The Circus: In The Circus, by Georges Seurat, the artist, like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, chose the Cirque Fernando as his subject. Read about The Circus by Georges Seurat.

Continue reading to learn about the painting that made Georges Seurat famous.For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

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Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte by Georges Seurat

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte by Georges housed at The
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte by Georges housed at The

Georges Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte was painted between 1884 and 1886. The depiction of a leisurely summer afternoon in a public park frequented by the Parisian bourgeois populace employed a theory based on current optical research. This research proposed dabs of color placed in close proximity on the canvas would resonate in a luminous blend on the viewer's retina. Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte, shown at the final Impressionist exhibition, pioneered a more structured formal approach to art that came to be called Neo-Impressionism.

For another example of Georges Seurat's innovative approach to painting, go to the next page.

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

Bathers at Asnieres by Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat's Bathers at Asnières (oil on canvas, 79-1/8x National Gallery of London.
Georges Seurat's Bathers at Asnières (oil on canvas, 79-1/8x National Gallery of London.

Georges Seurat's 1884 painting Bathers at Asnières, rejected by the Salon of 1884, offers a counterpoint to Pierre-Auguste Renoir's vision of middle-class leisure that is epic rather than intimate and formal rather than spontaneous. Part of a new generation that watched as Impressionism rose from notoriety to acceptance, Georges Seurat, in paintings such as Bathers of Asnières, sought what he believed to be a more rigorous approach through structure and color theory.

On the next page, we'll see an example of how Georges Seurat used contemporary optical theories in his art.

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp by Georges Seurat

Le Bec du Hoc on canvas, Tate Gallery in London.
Le Bec du Hoc on canvas, Tate Gallery in London.

In works such as the 1885 painting Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp, Georges Seurat sought a scientific approach to the visual sensations associated with Impressionism. Seurat developed a method of applying pure pigment to his canvas in individual dots asserting that, when placed in close proximity, the colors would be perceived as a luminous mixture. Georges Seurat's method, exemplified in Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp, became known as Neo-Impressionism because it advanced ideas concerning visual perceptions.

Seurat's new technique was derogatorily labeled "Pointillism" by some critics, but he stuck with it. Continue reading to see more of Seurat's paintings in this mode.

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

The Models by Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat's The Models (oil on canvas, 78-3/4x 98-3/8 Merion Station, Pennsylvania.
Georges Seurat's The Models (oil on canvas, 78-3/4x 98-3/8 Merion Station, Pennsylvania.

In works such as the 1886-1887 painting The Models, Georges Seurat continued to experiment with his optical color theories. In a small but luminous canvas depicting models in his studio, Seurat varied his application of dabbed pigment from the loose spray of contrasting pinks and blues that color the walls to the more dense and nuanced treatment of the women's flesh. The canvas of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande-Jatte pinned to the wall behind them presents a contrast in tonality from that of The Models, which Georges Seurat believed expressed differences in mood.

Though Georges Seurat was pioneering new approaches to art, he still shared an interest in traditional Impressionist subject matter. Next, we'll look at a painting of a subject that was quite popular with the Impressionists.

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

The Circus by Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat's The Circus (oil on canvas, 73x 59-1/8 inches)
Georges Seurat's The Circus (oil on canvas, 73x 59-1/8 inches)

In his last large-scale painting, the 1890-1891 work The Circus, Georges Seurat selected a subject that had long been popular among the Impressionists: the lively public entertainment at the Cirque Fernando. But unlike Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas's portrayal of a crowd holding their breath at an aerialist's dangerous performance, Georges Seurat approached his subject in The Circus in an intellectual rather than a responsive manner, using the image to explore his theories about color and line. The result is abstract and decorative, and The Circus was left unfinished at Georges Seurat's death.

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

For more on Impressionist paintings, artists, and art history, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Debra N. Mancoff is an art historian and lecturer and the author of numerous books on nineteenth-century European and American paintings. She is a scholar in residence at the Newberry Library.