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  • Russ Ramsey

Getting to know Georges Seurat

For this Art Wednesday we’ll look at the life and work of the French Post-Impressionist, color theorist and pointillist Georges Pierre Seurat (1859-1891).

Seurat, Saturday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-86


Seurat was a bit of a contradiction—he had an extreme and delicate sensibility, but also a passion for mathematical precision. He loved the abstract, but approached his work with technical care.

Seurat, Child in White, 1884–85


Seurat was born in Paris, where he studied art. Early on he developed a belief that a painter could convey emotion through the arrangement of color alone. He was particularly drawn to Delacroix’s use of color.

Seurat, Landscape at Saint-Ouen, 1879–80


His earlier work resembles the Impressionism of his era, but when he moved on to pointillism, his style changed dramatically. Overgrown Slope is all about brushwork, but Saturday Afternoon is all about dots of color.

Seurat, Overgrown Slope, 1881


Seurat’s Young Woman Powdering Herself (1888–90) is another example of his pointillism, which included his approach to color theory. He believed painters could use color to create harmony and emotion in the same way a musician uses notes.

Seurat, Young Woman Powdering Herself, 1888–90


Circus Sideshow (1889) was Seurat’s first nocturnal scene, and critics at the time disliked it. Later critics said it was “the most geometric in design as well as the most mysterious in sentiment of Seurat's major canvases.”

Seurat, Detail from Circus Sideshow (Parade de Cirque), 1889


Seurat died young, at 31. His cause of death is uncertain, but it was likely some form of meningitis or pneumonia. His son died 2 weeks later from the same symptoms. The Cubists revered Seurat as they did Cézanne.

Seurat, Circus Sideshow (Parade de Cirque), 1887–88


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