Georges Seurat was twenty-seven years old when he painted, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the most influential work of his career. The composition depicts Parisians spending an afternoon at a park on the banks of the River Seine in Paris.
Executed on a large canvas, Seurat takes apart convention in La Grande Jatte. His approach is pointillism, an emerging style in 1885-86. The practice involves applying small dots of color to a surface so that when viewed from a distance they visually blend together. La Grand Jatte was shown at the 1886 Impressionists Exhibition, the last of eight exhibitions taking place between 1874-1886.
When Seurat was presented, his work became the scandal of the Impressionists Exhibition. At the end of the 19th century, Impressionism was the favorite style of Paris with its naturalized depiction of light and color in paintings. Seurat’s work was different, a drastic change from what had been the norm.
There is nothing spontaneous about La Grande Jatte, a work completely planned and diagrammed in a scientific way, drawing on optical theory. Interestingly, Seurat received the same criticism the Impressionists had ten years earlier—his painting was considered radical and an abomination. Critics claimed art should be spontaneous, flavored with human temperament and emotion. La Grande Jatte was simply science, exploring of how different colors reflect on the retina.
Today, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte is considered an iconic work of late 19th century art.
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