Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte painted from 1884 to 1886, is both the best-known and largest painting Georges Seurat ever created on a canvas. It is a prominent example of the pointillist technique, executed on a large canvas. Seurat’s composition includes many Parisians at a park on the banks of the River Seine, which was a popular haven for the middle and upper class of Paris in the 19th century. “Bedlam,” “scandal,” and “hilarity” were among the epithets used to describe what is now considered Georges Pierre Seurat’s greatest work, and one of the most remarkable paintings of the nineteenth century when it was first exhibited in Paris.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Date completed: 1886

Artist: Georges Pierre Seurat

Periods: Pointillism · Post-Impressionism

Location: Art Institute of Chicago

Media: Oil painting

The ‘Ile de la Grande Jatte’ translates as ‘Big Bowl Island’ and the immense work by Georges Pierre Seurat perfectly depicts its character. The island itself is a mile long and located on the Seine in the Neuilly-sur-Seine section of Paris and represented a high-class escape for the Parisian community.

The essential sense of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is far from clear. In its remote location, Seurat was able to capture an interesting glimpse of wealthy Parisian life in the 19th century. However, art critics consider that it should be interpreted in comparison to its sister work Bathers at Asnieres. They believe that ‘La Jatte’ represents the French bourgeoisie, a decaying class that has fallen victim to lust and corruption, and which is now in the shadows. In contrast, the sun is shining on the working class bathers of Asnieres, who symbolise the bright future of France. The painting sparked numerous interpretations and was criticized for being too mathematical. Upon its exhibition, however, it was mostly heralded as a grand work of meticulous proportions.

The painting and the life of its artist were the basis for the 1984 Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Subsequently, the painting is sometimes referred to by the misnomer “Sunday in the Park”.

Seurat himself told a sympathetic critic, Gustave Kahn, that his model was the Panathenaic procession in the Parthenon frieze. But Seurat didn’t want to paint ancient Athenians. He wanted ‘to make the moderns file past . in their essential form.’ By ‘moderns’ he meant nothing very complicated. He wanted ordinary people as his subject and ordinary life. He was a bit of a democrat a “Communard,” as one of his friends remarked, referring to the left-wing revolutionaries of 1871; and he was fascinated by the way things distinct and different encountered each other: the city and the country, the farm and the factory, the bourgeois and the proletarian meeting at their edges in a sort of harmony of opposites.

The planning and cast of Grande Jatte were notorious as complex as the work itself and Seurat went through many sketched drafts before he arrived on the final plan for the painted piece. The cast comprised three dogs, eight boats and 48 people as they congregated for a Sunday afternoon in the sunny park.

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