Famous Masters : Georges Seurat & Constantin Brancusi
Georges Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884)
Part one of Seurat and Brancusi: A discussion of the visual elements and principles of design in Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Constantin Brancusi's Bird in Space.
By Chris Dunmire
Introduction: While taking a college course in Art Appreciation, I was given the assignment of comparing and contrasting two different pieces of art viewing one in person in an art gallery and finding one in a virtual museum online and reporting my findings on the visual elements, principles of design, and differences of the art experience viewed each way.
So I visited Chicago's Art Institute and chose Georges Seurat's famous painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte as my in-person piece and found Constantin Brancusi's cherished series and piece, Bird in Space online. Here's my report.
The initial reaction I had to La Grande Jatte: I was impressed by the size of the painting (81 ½ X 121-¼ in.). I was amazed at how the colors and texture of the picture gave it a sense of being "alive" as I viewed it in the gallery. I chose this painting to write about because I was interested in learning how Seurat used the technique of Divisionism, (also called Pointillism) to compose an entire painting. I was also interested in seeing how he used this technique to achieve what is described as optical color mixture - where different dots and dabs of color blend in the mind's eye to create new color sensations more vibrant than the actual pigment used.
The association I make with La Grande Jatte is of Impressionism style painting because the further away from the painting you stand, the clearer and more refined it looks. Seurat's painting differs from the Impressionism style familiar in his day (such as Monet's Waterlillies or Caillebotte's Paris Street: Rainy Day) in that he made his Impressionistic style more controlled, defined, and detailed.
La Grande Jatte depicts a leisurely Sunday in the park for local contemporaries in the outskirts of Paris. In his book Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization, Thomas Hoving describes it like this:
Interpretations of the painting range from scandal to satire. The plaque next to the painting at the Art Institute notes:
Still, others suggest Seurat is using humor and satire to mock the pretentiousness of the characters, and expressing his own interpretation at the stiffness and uniformity of fashion. One other observation is of a dialogue of cohesion and separateness of the characters in relationship to one another.
Visual elements in La Grande Jatte:
Principles of design in La Grande Jatte:
La Grande Jatte captures a satirical snapshot of what life would have typified on a Sunday afternoon in 1885 for the local middle class people on the island, so I consider the style abstract. Historically speaking, "Seurat began this painting in 1884, finished it during the winter of 1885-86, working on the island of the Grande Jatte, and exhibited it from May 15 to July 15, 1886, at the last Impressionist group show." (Hoving 166) The painting style was considered Impressionism at the time, but is now referred to as Neo-Primitivism. The materials used were the common oil pigments (and canvas) used by the artists of his day.