Artist’s use of color, Seurat

Seurat was a post-impressionist painter in the late 1800s and is most known for developing and using divisionism in his paintings. He wanted to find a way of using color to make his paintings more luminous. He started by studying the science of colors and color theory. Divisionist painters utilized optical mixture to blend colors. For example, to create magenta, a divisionist painter might put lots of blue paint on the paper, let it dry, then put red over/next to the blue in thin lines or dots etc. When the viewer steps back, the red and blue are no longer separate colors, but one new color. Up close, however, two separate colors can still be seen. The idea was to have the eyes do the mixing instead of physically mixing colors to create new ones.

Seurat was interested in how light and color could be represented in paintings. He wanted to “perfect” the methods of how paint was applied to achieve the most luminous and vibrant effect. He studied artists, like Delacroix, Monet, and Pissarro, and their views on color. He also studied books, like De la loi du contraste simultane des couleurs by Chevreul, which was considered to be a very influential treatise on color during the time. Chevreul wrote about how sunlight at the horizon will look orange-ish yellow on opaque bodies while the shadows will appear blue. He explains, “this colorization is not due to the colour of the sky. For if, instead of the bodies being stuck by the orange light of the sun, they were struck by red, yellow, green, or violet light, the shadows would appear green, violet, red, or yellow.” This basic rule that the shadows of an object will be the opposite color can be seen throughout Seurat’s work, like in La Grande Jatte and Une Baignade. He often represented shadows with blue and blue-green, and light with yellow and yellow-orange.

Another way Seurat tried how to make colors more vibrant and luminous was instead of physically mixing colors, he would superimpose them as little dots of paint. He theorized that optical mixture would look brighter, similar to how light is mixed additively to create different colors. For example, in Une Baignade, the grass was created by putting little strokes of orange over a green underbody. When the viewer steps back, their eyes mix the colors automatically to make a yellow-green color with a hint of orange. If the colors were physically mixed it would be more of a dull olive-green. However, it is still possible to create any color that was optically mixed by mixing colors on the palette subtractively if the artist’s palette is unrestricted. For example, according to Alan Lee, “if a bright pure red and a bright pure green are combined, either on a spinning disk or by pointillist mixture, the result will be a dull yellow, like yellow ochre. This color can be matched by some mixture of yellow and black paint. And similarly, there will be some paint mixture that will match any pointillist mixture.” Thus, Alan Lee argues that the pointillist mixture or optically mixing colors would have been completely unnecessary for it is impossible to have a pointillist mixture be lighter than its lightest constituent color. However, “every unnecessary mix of pigment on the painter’s palette is a stride towards blackness,” which is what Seurat wanted to avoid.

Although some critics suggest that Seurat’s pointillist technique to apply color was unnecessary and looked unnatural, he was still able to create paintings that appeared to have a nice range of colors and vibrancy with a limited color palette of only green, blue, violet, alizarin crimson, red, orange, yellow, and white.


La Grande Jatte




Une Baignade



Lee, A. (1987), SEURAT AND SCIENCE. Art History, 10: 203–226.

I chose this source because of the title. I used this source because it talked about Seurat’s use of color and it talked more about the science of color and light. There was a lot of science words that were hard for me to understand but I think I got the gist of it.

Homer, William Innes. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1964. Print.

I chose this source because of the title. I used this source because I saw that it talked about how Seurat used color a lot. There were good explanations of how he used color and talked about actual paintings as examples.

Seurat, Georges. Bathers at Asnières. 1884. Oil on canvas painting. National Gallery, London


Seurat, Georges. Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte. 1884. Oil on canvas painting. Art Institute of Chicago

I used these paintings because in the books, these paintings were talked about but they weren’t in color and they were small. I wanted to see and follow along with the writer of the books of Seurat’s use of color while actually looking at the painting.

Homer, William I. “Notes on Seurat’s Palette.” The Burlington Magazine 101.674 (1959): 192-93. Web.

I chose this source because the title. I saw the word “palette” and thought about color. I figured it would talk about Seurat’s palette, therefore his use of color which it did.