xxxxxIt was in 1880, after attending the École de Beaux-
GEORGES PIERRE SEURAT 1859 -
Seurat: example of Pointillism from Circus Sideshow – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Bathers at Asnières – National Gallery, London; Ile de la Grande Jatte – The Art Institute of Chicago, IL; The Circus – Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Study for La Chahut – Albright-
xxxxxThe French artists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac met in 1884, and it was these two painters who pioneered and promoted the colouring technique known as Pointillism (or Divisionism), an extension of Impressionism in which small dabs or flecks of pure paint replaced the traditional short brush strokes (example illustrated). Seuratxwas the chief creator of this new technique. Signac adopted it and became its main theorist. Together they initiated what came to be known as Neo-
xxxxxSeurat was born into a wealthy Paris family, and showed a real talent for figure drawing at an early age. He grew up in the capital, but during the Paris Commune of 1871, when he was twelve years old, the family took refuge at Fontainebleau. He entered the École des Beaux-
xxxxxNot surprisingly, he applied his findings to Impressionism -
xxxxxSeurat had two portraits accepted for the official Salon in 1883 -
xxxxxIt was in 1884, at the first meeting of the Independent Artists, that Seurat met Paul Signac, the man who was to become his chief disciple. He readily embraced the novel ideas being put forward by Seurat and made his own contribution. Together they took the idea of pointillism a significant step forward by studying the more intensive effect that could be achieved by the arrangement of the three primary colours and their complements. To put this revolutionary method to the test Seurat then embarked upon another large, outdoor scene, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, a park alongside the River Seine. He spent most of 1885 preparing for this work, producing over 200 drawings and oil sketches outdoors, but completing it in his studio. The following year, at the invitation of Pissarro, it was shown at the Impressionists’ eighth and last exhibition, held in Paris.
xxxxxThis original work (illustrated) provided not only the perfect example of pointillism -
xxxxxLa Grande Jatte, the second of his large canvases, is regarded today as Seurat’s masterpiece and, over the years, it has earned an iconic status in the art world, but its unique style can be readily identified in the paintings he produced over the next four years. These included four large-
xxxxxAs we have seen, the French artist Paul Signac (1863-
xxxxxThe French artist Paul Signac (1863-
xxxxxLike Seurat, Signac was born into a rather wealthy Paris family. He first showed an interest in architecture, but at the age of 18, having come to admire the work of the Impressionists, he decided to become an artist. Whilst he readily adopted pointillism in 1884 and worked tirelessly to promote this new art form -
xxxxxDuring a busy career, Signac produced some striking landscapes and, as a keen sailor, a large number of splendid seascapes depicting the coasts of Normandy, Brittany and the Mediterranean. He proved particularly successful in capturing the movement of water and clouds. In his later years he turned to painting scenes of Paris and other French cities. His adherence to pointillism can best be seen in his earlier works, such as Red Buoy, Saint-
xxxxxIllustrated here (left to right) are: The Circus, La Chahut, The Eiffel Tower, and The Harbour at Honfleur, Normandy.
xxxxxWhilst admiring the work of the Impressionists, their choice of subject matter and their fascination with the changing effects of light, Seurat was opposed to what he saw as their spontaneous, casual approach. He sought to put their treatment of light onto a firm scientific basis by means of his “optic mixture” and, at the same time, to give his chosen scene a greater degree of form and clarity. This he achieved, albeit in a somewhat stilted, geometric manner. In so doing he inaugurated Neo-
xxxxxSeurat’s life was brought to a short and tragic end in 1891. He contracted a fatal disease -
xxxxxIncidentally, Seurat knew all the major French artists of his day but, as a quiet, refined man by nature, he made few close friends. Always well dressed -
xxxxx…… Seuratxwasxalso an exceptional draughtsman. He produced some 500 drawings and many were executed with conté crayon on rough paper, a method which was ideal for detailed hatched work and subtle changes of tone. The conté crayon, made with powdered graphite or chalk and mixed with wax, was invented by the French artist Nicolas-
xxxxx…… InxFebruary 1888, Seurat, together with Signac, visited Brussels to attend a private viewing of Les Vingt (The Twenty), a small group of independent artists which included Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. He showed seven canvases, including La Grande Jatte and Le Chahut, and impressed the group’s members by his colour technique.
xxxxxIncidentally, apart from oil paintings Signac produced a large number of water colours, etchings, lithographs and pen and ink sketches, many of which were in the pointillist manner. Indeed, the majority of his seascapes were water colours, sketched rapidly and noted for their vibrant colours. ……
xxxxx…… Apart from his voyages along the French coastline, Signac made a tour of Italy in 1890, and two visits to Venice and London in the early years of the 20th century. He visited Van Gogh at Arles in 1889, and his outgoing personality -