Taste of culture
Learn and enjoy: art, music and words enable us to discover where we come from, so we can decide where we’re going.
Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891) was a French painter whose career, like that of many Post-Impressionist artists of the day, was shaped by the rejection of his work for the Paris Salon.
He is the best-known figure of those linked to Pointillism, a painting technique within the currents of Impressionism. This, as we shall see, was fruit of his time, of the emergence of the sudden changes in contemporary society and of new scientific studies into optics and colour.
Thus Seurat’s method lies in making explicit the way in which the human eye and brain performed an exercise of synthesising the shapes and colours of reality.
The radical complexity of his work led him to simplify forms ad figures as much as possible.
1. Pointillism or Divisionism
This work is not created on the basis of brush strokes, but rather by little dots. If we examine the canvas with a magnifying glass we’ll see that Seurat’s scientific technique is based on small elements of geometrical shapes and simple colours. So if we view the work from a certain distance our vision interprets the landscape and the painting’s nuances of colour. Could this be considered the predecessor to a bitmap?
The work, exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in 1884, suggests a placid, everyday summer print of Parisian life at the end of the century. As an avant-garde painter, Seurat does not portray a scene of wealthy society, instead he paints the leisure time of the less well-off working classes. The factories situate us in Asnières, a place to enjoy recreational activities on the outskirts of Paris.
3. Cience and light
That boy’s skullcap, like all elements in the painting, enables the artist to put his optical theses into practice. Seurat later went ever further with his technique, dispensing with figures and buildings and eventually experimenting solely with dots and colours.
Despite its naturalness, there’s something disconcerting about the picture, and it’s the fact that all the characters are situated in perfect profile. Seurat sought a rational approach to painting, and found profiles the ideal way to portray, using very precise geometrical shapes, a contrast with the background. Otherwise he would run the risk of everything becoming lost and confused in a cloud of colours.
Each and every one of the figures is isolated, they’re all independent and have nothing to do with each other. This also occurs in other paintings by the artist because, as the art historian Jonathan Crary points out, Seurat expresses modern disenchantment, the absence and emptiness of an objectified and quantified world.
This painting had huge impact among the artists and critics who visited the Salon. In fact, the work launched Seurat’s career, as well as so-called neo-impressionism. It would concern itself with synthesis of the ideal and the real, of capturing what makes these instants eternal. As you can see, water, grass and characters seem frozen and peaceful, to give us this sensation of durability.