Everyone knows that Georges Seurat Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jattor Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte, housed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Or at least everyone who saw it Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Does he know. The Art Institute appears as one of Chicago’s improbably diverse attractions, enjoyed by the titular high school student and his friends—even the anxious Cameron, who slips out of the moment from his troubled life while transfixed by Seurat’s most famous painting. The closer he looks, the less discernible are his noble Parisian figures, melting into fields of colored dots.
“George Seurat spent most of his adult life thinking about color,” says gallerist and YouTuber James Payne, “studying theories and systematically finding out how one color placed in a row of dots next to another creates a completely different color when it hits the retina of the human eye. “
Until La Grande Jatte — which he carefully planned, painstakingly executed, and completed between 1884 and 1886 — “made sure we saw the colors exactly as he wanted. Payne tells the story of Seurat, his scientific, aesthetic, and philosophical interests, and the fruits of his intellectual and artistic labor in a new video from his Great Art Explained channel at the top of the post.
Seurat first painted La Grande Jatte not using dots but dashes, “vertical for trees and horizontal for water”. After further developing his theory of color, he returned to the canvas and “added to what he had already done hundreds of thousands of small dots of complementary color, which when viewed from a distance appear as solid and luminous forms.” The final stage involved adding a border of color around whole scenes and not long after elaborate interpretations of the outwardly calm painting began to proliferate. But “the lack of narrative means we should really focus on the artist’s obsession with form, technique and theory, which is virtually all he wrote about, rather than meaning or subject matter. We may enjoy talking about the content of art, but it is, after all, the form of art that really captivates us.
Over 2,000 Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern Paintings Now Free Online, Thanks to the Barnes Foundation
Vincent Van Gogh Starry night: Why it’s a great painting in 15 minutes
Monet’s Water lilies: How World War
Scream Explained: What’s Really Happening in Edvard Munch’s World Famous Painting
Ugly impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir illustrates Emile Zola’s gritty novel L’Assommoir (1878)
An introduction to 100 important paintings with videos produced by Smarthistory
based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.