Georges-Pierre Seurat is one of the most famous and greatest French painters of all time. He is the founder of Neo-Impressionism, and the artist who invented the technique of pointillism.
Seurat was born in Paris on the 2nd of December 1859, to a financially well-off family. He studied at École des Beaux Arts in 1878 and 1879. For a year after that he attended the Brest Military Academy. In 1880, he returned to Paris, and devoted his time and talent to black and white drawings. His first painting, Bathing at Asnières (1883) was rejected by the Paris Salon. Following this setback, Seurat started allying himself with other independent artists of Paris. In 1884, he formed Société des Artistes Indépendants. The aim of this society was to permit artists to present their work to the public, without the intervention of the salon jury.
For several artists, who were breaking the traditional and accepted techniques and modes of painting, and devising their own, this was an invaluable platform to showcase their work. It enabled Seurat himself to introduce the public to his art of pointillism or divisionism.
Seurat was a painter; but he was also a scientist. He had carefully studied color theories and the effects of different linear structures. And he brought this learning to his art. another artist who approached his work scientifically and paid as much attention to geometric preciseness, was Piero della Francesca (link to Piero della Francesca).
As the name suggests, the technique of pointillism involves using tiny dots or brushstrokes to create a painting. Seurat used these spots of contrasting color to portray light effects. He placed dots of primary color (magenta, yellow, cyan) very close to each other, so as to facilitate a visual mixing, and give the impression of non-primary colors. When viewed from a distance, the independent dots become indistinguishable and the painting appears as though its colors have been mixed on a traditional palette.
Pointillism, as is apparent, required meticulous craftsmanship and thorough understanding of color and its use.
Seurat painted during the Impressionist time. Yet, his work was different from the tenets of Impressionism. As opposed to the spontaneity and intuition that were at the heart of this art movement, Seurat’s paintings were scientific. This was a new form of Impressionism, hence neo-Impressionism.
The Neoimpressionists heeded order, precision and accuracy in their work. Their paintings were well-planned and carefully executed. Seurat took a year or two to complete a single painting.
However, it must be remembered that this scientific approach to an art from was not at the cost of the emotion with which it was created, and that it was to elicit.
Seurat believed that the choice and intensity of color used, and the nature of lines in a painting were ultimately conducive to its emotion. For instance, he achieved gaiety by concentrating on warm colors and lines above the horizontal. Similarly, placidity could be indicated by lines that are horizontal and a balance of warm and cold colors. Sadness was achieved by lines pointing downwards and by using dark and cold colors. This he called Chromoluminarism.
Seurat applied his extensive study to his paintings, and despite criticism, created a magnificent collection of 7 large paintings, 60 smaller ones, and about 500 drawings and sketches. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1883) is considered his masterpiece.
Other famous Seurat paintings are:
Forest at Pontaubert (1881)
Bathing at Asnières (1883)
Boats, Low Tide, Grandcamp (1885)
The Lighthouse at Honfleur (1886)
The Seine at Le Grande Jatte (1888)
The Eiffel Tower (1889)
On the 29th of March 1891, Georges-Pierre Seurat died of Diphtheria at the young age of 31.