George Seurat (1859-91)
Was Seurat an Impressionist?
Seurat at the Salon:
Seurat only exhibited at the Salon in 1883 with a drawing of his friend Aman-Jean (iR1;R162;R40). A drawing of his mother embroidering was rejected (R40). In 1884 his ‘Bathing at Asnières’ was rejected (R162;R40;R3).
Seurat and the Salon des Indépendants:
1884/05/15: Seurat exhibits his ‘Bathing at Asnières’ at the ‘Salon des Artistes Indépendants’ organised by the ‘Groupe des Artistes indépendants’ (R162;R40,p33;R39,p299). 1884/06/04: co-founded the ‘Société des Artistes Indépendants’ (R40). 1884/12/10: exhibits at the 1st ‘Société des Artistes Indépendants’, also called the ‘Salon des Indépendants’ with studies for ‘La Grande Jatte’ (R162;R39,p299). 1886/08/21: exhibits 10 works, including ‘La Grande Jatte’ at the 2nd Salon des Indépendants (R162;R39,p300). 1887/03/26: Seurat is part of the hanging committee of the 3rd Salon des Indépendants; he exhibits studies for ‘Les Poseuses’ (R39,p301;R162). 1888/03/22: exhibited ‘the models’, invitation to the Sideshow’ and 8 drawings at 4th exhibition of the Salon des Indépendants (R40;R39,p302). 1889/09/03: 5th Salon des Indépendants (R39,p303). 1890/03/20: 6th exhibitions of the Salon des Indépendants; Seurat exhibits ‘Le Chahut’, ‘Young woman powdering herself’ (R162;R40;R39,p303). 1891/03/20: exhibits his unfinished ‘Circus’ and 4 other works at the 7th Salon des Indépendants (R40;R126;R39,p303).
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).
Huysmans criticized his works: ‘not enough life!’ (R40,p41).
See link for his -/-art-works. See link for an -/-account.
Seurat at other exhibitions:
1887/02/ 02: exhibits ‘La Grande Jatte’ and 6 seascapes (of Honfleur and Grandcamp) at the 4th exhibition of Les XX in Brussels (R40,p43;R162). 1888/01: exhibits at ‘La Revue indépendante’ (directed by Félix Fénéon) (R162;R40). 1889/02: exhibits 6 seascapes of and 6 other works at the exhibition of Les XX in Brussels, where he was the guest of honor (R40,p78;R162). 1891/02/07: exhibits with Les XX in Brussels 7 works, including ‘Le Chahut’ (R162).
Seurat as an artist:
1875-7: evening classes in drawing by Justin Lequien; friendship with Edmond Aman-Jean (R162;R40,p10). 1876: studied ‘Grammaire des arts du dessin’ by Charles Blanc (R162). 1878/03/19 -1879: followed the École des Beaux-Arts (R40;R162). 1878/03/19: joined the painting class of Henri Lehmann (R162;R40). 1881: studied the colour theories of Ogden N. Rood and the paintings of Delacroix (R162). 1884: start friendship with Signac (R162;R39,p299). 1886: introduced by Félix Fénéon Seurat meets Charles Henry, who publishes in August ‘introduction à une esthétique scientifique’ (concerning lines / directions that are pleasant and disagreeable (R40,p42;R162;R39, p300;R40). 1887: meets Van Gogh (R40). 1887: joined the group of Neo-Impressionist formed by Signac, also including Angrand (Charles), Dubois-Pillet (Albert), Luce (Maximilien) and Camille and Lucien Pissarro (R162;R40).
1881/summer: with Aman-Jean at Pontaubert, in Burgundy (R40). 1885/summer: paints in Grandcamp, Calvados (R40;R162). 1886/07+08: stayed in Honfleur (R40). 1888/08+09: paints in Port-en-Bessin (R40;R162). 1890/summer: paints in Gravelines (R162;R40).
Seurat his drawings:
Seurat made series of drawings done with Conté crayons to experiment with the contrast in value (opposition of dark and light) (R40,p26). Some of these drawings were preparations for his paintings. (R40,p26)
Seurat, the inventor of pointillism:
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). Charles Henry would later represent his chromatic circle (R40,52).
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).
For his Bathing at Asnières (also depicting the bridge of Courbevoie) he made several preliminary ‘croquetons’ or studies (R40,p31). 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 many studies and 2 preliminary canvases. 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 1885/6 (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).
Soon Signac, Camille Pissarro, Lucien Pissarro, Louis Hayet would take over his technique (R40,p41). And around 1889 (Belgium) artists like Theo 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 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 values and warm and cold hues and horizontal lines. (R40,p52). 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). 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, a short biography:
- 1859/12/02: Georges Seurat was born 60, Rue de Bondy, Paris (R162;R40;R3;iR1)
- 1879: rented a studio at 32, Rue de l’Arbalète, Paris (with Aman-Jean) (R40)
- 1879/11/08: military service (R40;R162)
- 1880/11: rented a studio at 19, Rue de Chabrol, Paris (R40;R162).
- 1883: Seurat lived at 110, boulevard Magenta, Paris (iR1)
- 1886/ autumn: new studio at 128b, Boulevard Clichy, Paris (R40).
- 1888/08/13: publication of an article by Arsène Alexandre about Seurat’s Neo-Impressionism (R39,p302).
- 1889/Spring: relationship with his former model Madeleine Knobloch (R40,p79)
- 1889/10: they started living together at 39, Passage de l’Elysée-des-Beaux-arts (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;R3)
- 1891/03/31: Seurat was buried at the Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise (R162;R40)
- Shortly afterwards his son died of the same infection and his wife had a miscarriage of their second child (R40,p88;R162).
- 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; 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), 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) and xx. 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 (R40)
Hauke, César-Meyer de: Seurata et son oeuvre, 2 vol. Paris, 1961 (R40).
Minervino, Fiorella: Tout l’oeuvre peint de Seurat. Paris, Flammarion, 1973 (=R115).
Homer, William Innes: Seurat and the science of painting. Cambridge, 1964 (R40,p25)