Georges Seurat

Color is depicted in so many different ways a person would not expect. Whether it is applied in a different fashion makes the whole picture a lot different. Color can turn an insignificant, dull subject to a symbolic enigma. Color can be vivid. Color can be light. It can be opaque as well as transparent.  Color can symbolize emotion, information, or even a material. Color is a visual factor which in turn makes humans a visual society. Moreover, color is a necessity; a necessity applied by an ingenious post-impressionist painter, Georges Seurat.

Over the course of Seurat’s years, he has developed a wide range of ideas that has affected modern painting and color utilization. These varying ideas included Chromoluminarism and pointillism. During Seurat’s years of researching color he was greatly influenced by scientists like Charles Henry. Seurat experimented on the science of color proposed by Michel Eugene Chevreul, who discovered that combining primary colors would create a third color from a distance. This idea was later on used by Seurat in his pointillism paintings. From artists such as Eugene Delacroix, Seurat began to delve in “the use of complementary hues to create coloristic harmony and more particularly, the ways in which complementary colors can be used as agents of modeling, to modify and enliven neutral tones of grey.” (Broude, 1978, p. 2) Continuing his studies, he turned for advice to scientific writings on the luminosity, intensity, and harmony of color. The knowledge gained from this aspect enabled Seurat to change Delacroix’s artistic perspective. Seurat was not only influenced by these pioneers of color but also from books, specifically one by Charles Blanc, Grammaire des arts au dessin (1867). In this book, the theories of color are studied by scientists including Chevreul and David Sutter. In addition to Charles Blanc’s composition, Suerat explored another class of writings by authors such as Roland Rood, Gaetano Previati, and Edouard Fer that have succeeded in demonstrating ways in which laws of physics may be applied to the representation of light and color in painting.

Incorporating both science and art set Georges Seurat’s practice of “chromo-luminarist” method by capturing nature’s combination of light and color. Chromoluminarism, also called Divisionism, is a Neo-impressionistic style involving the separation of colors in tiny dots which, from a distance, optically interacts to the viewer’s eyes. Impressionists such as Monet and Pisarro first pioneered the method of accentuating dots on a surface to give the impression of being combined together creating greater luminosity as well as form. Nevertheless, Georges Seurat’s systematic progress was made when he began to study color optics and the color theory in painting.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Oil on canvas, 1888 (1)

               Georges Seurat’s pointillist method is related to Divisionism; however, Divisionism is more complex of the painting technique. Pointillism is focused on a specific style of brush stroke whereas Divisionism is concerned with color theory. Seurat’s Circus is an example of Divisionism due to the strategic choice and placement of complementary and analogous colors.

Georges Seurat, Circus, oil on canvas, 1890-1891(3)

Georges Seurat, Circus, oil on canvas, 1890-1891(3)

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, one of Seurat’s masterpieces, was not merely just an observation of people in a park. It was a study tested by his particular method and a keen discernment of compositions.  When creating his art, Seurat “first broke up the parts of his composition, subdividing, and classifying each according to its elements; second, of a long period of synthesis during which he revised these parts, joined them together, and intensified the whole.” (Broude, 1978, p. 71) Each step to his process was taken slowly and discreetly; however, each was to be proven clearly. With the use of color in this composition, Seurat makes compromises. The colors are carefully chosen to a designated area. Furthermore, the colors are divided subtly. These “dots” touch each other at a tiny distance to create a single mass. One type of color is organized in such a fashion where one hue impacts on another through using its opposite, or complementary, color. This consistency throughout La Grand Jatte, as well as his other works, allowed Seurat to examine complicated colors into simple hues and still retain a sense of form and mass when viewed from a different scale.

Georges Seurat,  A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,                 Oil on canvas, 1884-1886(2)

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Oil on canvas, 1884-1886(2)

Georges Seurat, from his time, developed a respectful amount of rationalized work, technique, and artistic invention. Similar to engineers, architects, and other artists, Seurat’s ingenuity emphasized the use of depicting color through examination, observation, and invention. Without the feat and the means of studying how color works, our eyes would only be used to see and the mind remains black and white.

 

References:

Broude, N. (1978). Seurat in perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Homer, W. I. (1964). Seurat and the science of painting. Cambridge, Mass: M.I.T. Press.

Russell, J. (1965). Seurat. New York: F. A. Praeger.

Images:

(1)Agricola, P. (2010). A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/28433765@N07/

(2)Jesonis, D. (2012). A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/jesonisphoto/

(3)Gobetz, W. (2007). Circus. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/

 

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