Seurat, Georges



Impressionism: partaker of the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition:

Georges Seurat


the inventor of

Scientific Impressionism

Was Seurat an Impressionist?
Seurat made many oil sketches, mostly on wood and sized 16x25cm. Many of them he exhibited. And many of them he painted en-plein-air. In these sketches he used a looser brushstroke, which make the colouors vibrate. He used bright colours and purples, blues and dark greens for the shades. In that sense you could say that his oil sketches are made in an impressionist painting style.
Most of his larger paintings Seurat at least finished in his studio. The analytic approach of colours and lines and the systhematic placing of dots of paint don’t have much in common with the more spontaneous rendering of the impression of the whole of a scene. Often his pointillist technique and the static composition make that his paintings don’t vibrate, what many impressionist paintings do. So in this sense Seurat didn’t paint in an impressionist painting style. Because of Seurat his systhematic approach and study I find the term ‘scientifique impressionism’ most appropriate.
Seurat only joined the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886. He was connected with Camille and Lucien Pissarro, Guillaumin and Signac. So you can say he was on the sideline of the ‘impressionist’ art-movement. With his pointillist technique and his divisionist theories Seurat became a key figure within Néo-Impressionist circles. He was important within the Société des Artistes Indépendant and was admired at the exhibitions of Les XX.

Seurat at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français:
Seurat only exhibited at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français (=SdAF) in 1883 with a drawing of his friend Aman-Jean; a drawing of his mother embroidering was rejected (though this title was rendered in the catalogue) (iR1;R207,p122;R162;R40,p93). In 1884 his ‘Bathing at Asnières’ was rejected (R162;R40,p93;R3). See link for his pictures. See link for an account.

Seurat and the Salon des Indépendants:
1884/05/15 Seurat exhibited his ‘Bathing at Asnières’ at the exhibition organised by the ‘Groupe des Artistes indépendants‘ (=GdAI-1884/05). 1884/06/04: Seurat co-founded the ‘Société des Artistes Indépendants’ (R40). 1884/12/10: he exhibited at the 1st ‘Société des Artistes Indépendants’, also called the ‘Salon des Indépendants‘ 10 studies (for ‘La Grande Jatte’) and 1 drawing. 1886/08/21 Seurat exhibited 10 works, including ‘La Grande Jatte’ and several landscapes. In 1887 Seurat was part of the hanging committee; he namely exhibited works made in Honfleur and 12 studies. In 1888 he exhibited ’the models’, ‘invitation to the Sideshow’ and 8 drawings. In 1889 Seurat showed just 3 works, namely made in Le Crotoy. In 1890 Seurat exhibited ‘Le Chahut’, ‘Young woman powdering herself’ + 5 oils made in Port-en-Bessin + 2 made in Grande-Jatte + 2 drawings. In 1891 he exhibited his unfinished ‘Circus’ and 4 works made in Gravelines.
Sources: R229,p1582/3;R162;R39,p299-303;R40,p33+93/4;R126;R183.
See link for his pictures. See link for an account.

Seurat only joined the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition:
At the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886 Seurat showed 9 works (catalogue numbers 175-183; R2,p446). Alexandrian states that Caillebotte, Monet, Renoir and Sisley withdrew from the exhibition when they learned that Seurat wanted to exhibit ‘La Grande Jatte’. He also states that there were landscapes exhibited by a certain David Estoppey (which is not confirmed by any other source). (R40,p41).
Some art-critics supported Seurat. Octave Maus called him ‘The messiah of a new art (…) capable of decomposing the phenomena of light, of penetrating its prism’ (R90I,p464). Hermel discerned a ‘sign of a new school’ (R90I,p457).  Fénéon reviewed: ‘These colours, isolated on the canvas, are recomposed on the retina: we have therefore not a mixture of colours – materials (pigments), but a mixture of light colours. (…) It is therefore conceivable that, in their effort to express the luminosities of reality, the Impressionists, like Delacroix in some cases, wanted to replace the mixture on the palette with an optical mixture. M. Georges Seurat, the first, has presented a formula complete and systhematique of this new painting.’ (R90I,p444).
Other art-critics were quite negative, namely on La Grande Jatte. Hennequin remarked ‘the characters are drawn like badly made mannequins.’ (R90I,p454;R207,p136). Another remarked ‘It is accurate as a photograph, but it announces nothing living’ (R90I,p474). Huysmans criticized ‘not enough life!’ (R40,p41).
See link for his pictures. See link for an account.

Seurat at Les XX and other exhibitions:
During his life Seurat exhibited 3 times at Les XX in Brussels. In 1887 Seurat exhibited ‘La Grande Jatte’ and 6 seascapes (of Honfleur and Grandcamp) In 1889 Les Poseuses, 2 river views (Grande Jattte), 6 seascapes (Port-en-Bessin) and 3 drawings. That year he waswas the guest of honour at Les XX. In 1891 Seurat exhibited 7 works, including ‘Le Chahut’ and 6 seascapes (Le Crotoy + Gravelines).
In 1886 Seurat exhibited at a regional exhibition in Nantes. January 1888 Seurat exhibited at ‘La Revue indépendante‘ (directed by Félix Fénéon).
Sources: R207,p124-130;R40,p43+78;R162;R183. See link for his pictures. See link for an account.

Seurat at retrospectives and other posthumous exhibitions:
There have been several posthumous retrospectives of the works made by Seurat. At Les XX in 1892 with 18 art-works. At the Salon des Indépendants in 1892 with 27 paintings + 9 studies + 10 drawings and again in 1905 with 44 art-works. In 1900 at La Revue Blanche (=RB1900) organized by Félix Fénéon; there were 53 numbers in the catalogue; actually there were 38 paintings, 26 oil studies (croquetons) and 300 drawings exhibited (R40). At the Bernheim (Jeune) gallery from 1908/12/14 till 1909/01/09  with 205 art-works (iR261).
In 1900 at the Centennial exhibition of the Exposition Universelle a work from Grandcamp was exhibited. In 1912 at a Centennial exhibition in Saint-Petersbourg two works from Honfleur were exhibited. In 1904 + 1910 works of Seurat were shown at La Libre Esthetique. Works of Seurat also were present at international exhibitions in 1910 at the Grafton gallery in London and in 1912 in Venice.
See link for his pictures. See link for an account.

Seurat as an artist:
From 1875 till 1877 (or 1878) Seurat followed evening classes in drawing by Justin Lequien at the École Municipale de Sculpture et de Dessin, 19, Rue des Petits-Hôtels (R207,p19;R162;R40,p10). and started a friendship with Edmond Aman-Jean (R207,p19;R162;R40,p10). In 1876 he studied ‘Grammaire des arts du dessin’ by Charles Blanc (R162). Seurat passed his admitting exam 1878/02/02 and was registered 1878/03/19 at the École des Beaux-Arts; he left again in the course of 1879 (R207,p19;R40;R162). At the École Seurat joined the painting class of Henri Lehmann (R162;R40;R207,p19). In 1881 he studied the colour theories of Ogden N. Rood and the paintings of Delacroix (R162). In 1884 he started a friendship with Signac (R162;R39,p299). In 1886, introduced by Félix Fénéon, Seurat met Charles Henry, who published in August ‘introduction à une esthétique scientifique’ (concerning lines / directions that are pleasant and disagreeable (R40,p42;R162;R39, p300;R40). In 1887 he met Van Gogh (R40). In 1887 he joined the group of Neo-Impressionists formed by Signac, also including Angrand (Charles), Dubois-Pillet (Albert), Luce (Maximilien) and Camille and Lucien Pissarro (R162;R40).
Gustave Kahn was an art-critic that supported Seurat and also Symbolism. He wrote a necrology in 1891 shortly after Seurat his death. He emphasized that Seurat left out details and used forms reduced to their essence. Jooren, inspired by this necrology, claims that Seurat saw as the goal of art ’to perceive the timeless essence of things’. (R207,p74) This would make Seurat a sort of symbolist painter. I wonder if this claim is supported by writings of Seurat himself.

Seurat his drawings:
Seurat made a total of some 200 drawings. Almost all in black conté crayon on white paper with a grainy texture. In the early 1880s he made many drawings and used it for a systhematical study. (Note: he didn’t exclusively made drawings in these early years as Kahn suggested.) With these drawings Seurat created light and dark areas with gradual transitions, without contour lines. The white background played a strong role in creating gradations of light and dark and depth. He made these series of drawings to experiment with the contrast in value (opposition of dark and light). Later on Seurat continued to make drawings, also as preparation for his paintings.
Sources: M72;R40,p26;R207,p68-74.

Seurat, a systhematic study:
Seurat made an almost scientifique study of drawing and painting. He studied Humbert de Superville (on unconditional signs of art), Chevreul (on the law of simultaneous contrast), Sutter (on the difference between warm and cold colours, Corot (on tones), Thomas Coutre (on shadings of tints), Puvis de Chavannes (on depicting light through diffused clarity), Delacroix (his frescoes in the church of Saint-Sulpice; his use of complementary colours in his paintings), Ogden Nicholas Rood (on modern chromatics; his circular chart; his contrast diagram), Maxwell (his polychrome disk), Dove (his dichroscope), Helmholtz (on the sensitivity of the eye) (R40,p10,25,26). From Rood he also learned about several kinds of contrasts: contrast in value (the opposition of light and dark); contrast in hue (complementary colours); the contrast in line (the different directions of the lines) (R40,p26). (See art-theories.)
In his early years Seurat experimented with contrast in colour (R40,p28). In those early years he also emphasized the geometric forms of his subjects (R40,p30). In many of his works the faces are rarely visible; he doesn’t render emotions; he aimed complete objectivity (R40,p30). In his work ’the models’ (1886) the 3 models are frozen or as Huysmans (1887/03) put it ’they have no soul’ (R40,p64+77).

Seurat, the meaning of colour and line:
Seurat wanted to create harmony in his paintings depending on the simultaneous contrasts of hues, values, and lines. Emphasizing the emotion of gaiety with lighter values, warmer hues and rising lines. Sadness with darker values, colder hues and falling lines. Serenity with equal rendering of light and dark tonal values and warm and cold hues and horizontal lines. (R40,p52;R207,p89+138; compare the ideas of Charles Henry). He tried to render movement by rendering contrasts in directions (R40,p80). Seurat would make studies with Conté crayon to determine the luminous values, and croquetons (oil studies) to establish the contrasts of hues (R40,p68). Seurat later on would paint the frames, using colours that complemented the adjoining colours on the canvas (R40,p79;R207,p90; compare the ideas of Chevreul). In rendering his theme, he stripped it of nonessentials (R40,p80). In his painting ’the circus’ he introduced the viewer into the picture (R40,p85).

Seurat, the inventor of Pointillism / Divisionism:
For his Bathing at Asnières (also depicting the bridge of Courbevoie) he made several preliminary ‘croquetons’ or studies (R40,p31), at least 15 small oil studies (15x25cm) and at least 10 drawings (24x32cm) (R183-84-97=DR;R207,p74). The used models he painted in his studio (R40,p33). In 1887 Seurat added pointillist touches (R40,p33). At the end of May 1884 Seurat started his most famous work ‘a Sunday afternoon on the island of Grande Jatte‘, shortly ‘La Grande Jatte‘. He made about 50 oil sketches and drawings and 2 preliminary canvases (M23;R183=DR116-138;R207,p136). Much of his painting took place in his studio. He finished it in March 1885, but the 2nd Salon des Indépendants was postponed till the next year. (R40,p33/4) In the summer of 1885 he made several seascapes in Grandcamp and at some point he started to use dots: the birth of Pointillism (R40,p34). Returning in Paris Seurat began to rework ‘La Grande Jatte’ completely which would last the whole winter of 1885/86 (R40,p41). Seurat used pigmentary / pure colours as beams of coloured light, using the contrasts of complementary colours (hues), the contrasts in light and dark by adding whites (values) and juxtaposing the dots on the canvas. The synthesis of these dots occur on the retina of the spectator, through an optical blend, when the painting is seen from some distance. Or as Fénéon put it: ‘Take two steps backward, and all of those multicoloured drops dissolve into flowing luminous masses’. (R40,p44+52;R90I,p444). And Darzens ‘every dot has it’s own colour and it’s the juxtaposition of these colours that gives, with a few meters distance, an intense and unified effect of light.’ (R90I,p438). See also Charles Blanc who introduced this theory.
Soon Signac, Camille Pissarro, Lucien Pissarro, Louis Hayet would take over his technique (R40,p41). And around 1889 (Belgium) artists like Théo van Rysselberghe, Anna Bloch, Jan Toorop, Henry van de Velde and George Lemmen (R40,p78). But Seurat considered his method to be a personal invention, conceived for him alone to use (R40,p44).  Seurat first preferred the term ‘Divisionism‘, because the principal element of the method was not the point but the division of tones, giving simultaneous contrasts. (Around 1888 he would use sweeping brushstrokes; R40,p78). Later on (1887/07) he called himself a ‘Luminarist’ and his style ‘chromo-luminarism’.  (R40,44). Others called it ‘Confetti-ism’, ’tachism’. Fénéon (1886/09/19) called it ‘scientific Impressionism’ in contrast with the ‘romantic Impressionism’ of the traditional Impressionists. (R40,p44)

Seurat and his figure paintings:
Seurat made a few (large) figure paintings, for which he made many studies. The first two we have discussed before, namely ‘Bathing at Asnières‘ (DR98↑) and ‘a Sunday afternoon on the island of Grande Jatte‘ (DR139↑). From 1886-88 he made ‘Poseuses’ (DR178). From 1887-88 ‘Parade de cirque‘ (DR181). Both works were first shown at the Salon des Indépendants in 1888. From 1888-90 on a smaller scale ‘Woman powdering herself‘ (DR195). From 1889-90 Le Chahut (DR199). Both works were first shown at the Salon des Indépendants in 1890. From 1890-91 Le Cirque, which breaths cheerfullness emphasized by ascending lines, warm colours and contrasting cool colours in the frame (DR211↑). This work was shown at the Salon des Indépendants in 1891; 9 days after the opening Seurat would die. Many of the figures Seurat rendered on these pictures look quite static and seem without soul. See link for his pictures.

Seurat and his seascapes:
Between 1885 and 1890 Seurat spend his summers at the French coast of the English Channel. Sometimes a few weeks, sometimes a few months. In 1885 he painted in Grandcamp and for the first time he used the pointillist painting style↑. In Grandcamp he made 5 paintings and 12 oil sketches (DR141-157). In 1886 Seurat painted in Honfleur. Here he made 7 paintings and 6(?) oil sketches (DR162-171). In 1888 Seurat painted in Port-en-Bessin. Here he made 6 paintings, but no preparatory sketches (DR184-189). Honfleur lies just south of Le Havre, Port-en-Bessin lies 97km south-west of Honfleur and Grandcamp 23km west of Port-en-Bessin. In 1889 he painted in Le Crotoy. (166km north of Le Havre). Here he made just 2 paintings (DR192+193). In 1890 Seurat painted in Gravelines (between Calais and the Belgium border). He made 4 paintings (DR203 +205 + 206 +207), at least 4 oil sketches and several drawings (DR200-204). See link for his pictures.
Characteristic for many of his seascapes is that he renders every day scenes, but figures are often absent. In his seaviews he often renders of mood of tranquillity, you also could say emptiness. Greyish skies are dominant. By equal treatment of fore- and background he reduces depth. Sometimes he used sloping arabesques and decorative patterns. His compositions are often rather simplyfied, geometrical and static. Seurat made en-plein-air drawings and oil sketches. Eventually he finished his paintings, using the pointillist technique, in his studio (in Paris).
1885/summer: painted in Grandcamp, Calvados (R40;R162). 1886/07+08: stayed in Honfleur (R40). 1888/08+09: painted in Port-en-Bessin (R40;R162). 1890/summer: painted in Gravelines (R162;R40).
My main sources are Veldink (R207,p99-118) and Dorra + Rewald (R183).

Where did Seurat paint?
His father lived 8, boulevard du Midi in Rancy, where Georges painted from about 1879-83. 1881/summer: with Aman-Jean at Pontaubert, in Burgundy (R40). Seurat painted at several places in Paris, also along the Seine (1882-89); in Barbizon (1882 +83); in Asnières (west of Paris) (1883+84), namely his Bathers (DR98); in Courbevoie (just south of Asnières) (1882-87), namely DR161 and DR172; at Île de la Grande Jatte (just east of Courbevoie; DR116-139) (1884-86 + 1888), namely his Sunday afternoon.  (R207,p28;R183=DR139).


Seurat, a short biography:

  • 1859/12/02: Georges-Pierre Seurat was born 60, Rue de Bondy, Paris, nowadays Rue René Boulanger (R207,p16;R162;R40;R3;iR1), in the 10th arrondissement (iR9)
    Seurat came from a bourgeois family. His father, Antoine Seurat, partly lived in Le Raincy, about 17km north-east of Paris. His mother was born as Ernestine Faivre. His brother Émile Augustin was born in 1846 and his sister Marie-Berthe in 1847. (R207,p17+18)
  • 1862 or 1863: the family moved to 136, boulevard de Magenta; the number changed in 1866 to 110, boulevard de Magenta (R207,p16), close to Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est (iR9). Later on Seurat would continue to gave this address as his official dwelling place, see 1883↓ (R207,p16;iR1).
  • 1879: rented a studio at 32, Rue de l’Arbalète, Paris (with Aman-Jean) (R40); another source adds that he maybe did so after his military service (R207,p21).
  • 1879/11/08: 1 year of military service (R40;R162;R207,p16)
  • 1880/11: rented a studio at 19, Rue de Chabrol, Paris (R40;R162); others write that he rented this second studio since 1882 till about 1886 and that it was located at 16, Rue de Chabrol (R207,p21).
  • 1883: Seurat gave as his official address 110, boulevard Magenta, Paris (iR1;R207,p16)
  • 1885: start relationship with his former model Madeleine Knobloch (1868-1903); for years Seurat kept this relationship hidden (R207,p19)
  • 1886/ autumn: new studio at 128b, Boulevard Clichy, Paris (R40); note he rendered this address already for the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition that started 1886/05/15; he was officially registered here since 1887. Signac lived at number 130. (R207,p21;R2,p446).
  • 1888/08/13: publication of an article by Arsène Alexandre about Seurat’s Neo-Impressionism (R39,p302).
  • 1889/Spring: Madeleine Knobloch moved in (R40,p79)
  • 1889/10: they started living together at 39, Passage de l’Elysée-des-Beaux-arts (nowadays Rue André Antoine) in Montmarte (R207,p22;R40;R162)
  • 1890/02/16: their son Pierre Georges was born (R162)
  • 1891/03/29: Seurat died in Paris of an infectious angina or diphtheria (R162;R40;R207,p16;R3)
  • 1891/03/31: Seurat was buried at the Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise (R162;R40;R207,p17)
  • Shortly afterwards his son died of the same infection and Madeleine had a miscarriage of their second child (R40,p88;R162;R207,p16+18).
  • 1891/05/03: an inventory was made of his inheritance: 6 notebooks with sketches; 407 drawings; 163 croquetons, 42 oil paintings (R40,p88;R126).
  • 1900: retrospective organized by Félix Fénéon at La Revue Blanche (=RB1900); 53 works in the catalogue; actually there were 38 paintings, 26 oil studies (croquetons) and 300 drawings exhibited (R40).


My main sources are Alexandrian (1980=R40,p93/4), Düchting (2000=R162,p94/5), Jooren / Veldink / Berger (2014=R207), Rewald (1973=R1), Moffett (1986, R2), Walther (2013, R3,p696), Denvir (1993, R5), Feretti-Bocquillon (2001=R39), the Salon database and the addition references (=Rx). For other general references (=R) see. My main sources (for the pictures) from the internet are Wikimedia (iR6), WikiArt (iR7) and Google images (iR10) and Musea: Orsay (M1), Art Institute Chicago (M20), NGA Washington (M21), Metropolitan (M23), AKAG Buffalo (M34), National Gallery in London (M61). For other references to internet sites (=iR) see. For other additional references (=aR) see below. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.

For further reading:
Dorra, Henri & John Rewald: Seurat, l’oeuvre peint, biographie et catalogue critique. Paris, 1959 (=R183=iR190=aR1); noted as DR.
Hauke, César-Meyer de: Seurat et son oeuvre, 2 vol. Paris, 1961 (R40); noted as dH.
Minervino, Fiorella and André Chastel, L’Opera Completa di Seurat (Milan, 1972) = Tout l’oeuvre peint de Seurat. Paris, Flammarion, 1973 (=R115); noted as PC.
Homer, William Innes: Seurat and the science of painting. Cambridge, 1964 (R40,p25)


Additional references:

  1.,intro (online publication of ‘Seurat, l’oeuvre peint, biographie et catalogue critique’ of Henri Dorra & John Rewald of 1959, starting with reviews (of Fénénon), a biography and an essay on the development of his style;=R183;=iR190)
  2.,CR (online publication of ‘Seurat,l’oeuvre peint, biographie et catalogue critique’ of Henri Dorra & John Rewald of 1959; start of the catalogue itself;=R183;=iR190)
  3. “Georges Seurat.” In Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME). European Paintings and Drawings 1905-1915. Last modified Nov 4, 2019.  =iR261; overview of contributions of Seurat in exhibitions and auctions from 1905-1915
  4.,bpt6k42262130 (article by Florent Fels on the drawings by Seurat in L’Amour de l’art 1927, p43-47; =iR40=R356)
  5. (blog by Abigail Lashbrook on the studies of Seurat for La Grande Jatte; 2021/08/06)
  6. (article on an exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York with pictures of drawings by Seurat)
  7. (website with many (restricted) pictures of Seurat)
  8. (article by Carl Jennings (2016) on the technique of Seurat)


Recommanded citation: “Impressionism: Georges Seurat, the inventor of scientific Impressionism. Last modified 2024/01/30.