Georges-Pierre Seurat needs no introduction to even the casual art admirer, as he is one of the more pre-eminent late 19th century artists, and is largely responsible for ushering in the post-impressionist movement in art. Many of his works are instantly recognizable, and his classic painting, A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte (above), altered the course of modern art by initiating the neo-impressionist era. It remains an icon of 19th century art.
Born in Paris, France on December 2, 1859 to a wealthy family, Seurat studied art, following conventional academic training. After a brief stint in the Army, in 1881 he moved to the island of La Grande Jatte with his friend and fellow artist Edmond-Francois Aman-Jean. The island would serve as his life-long inspiration and the setting of his most seminal work.
Meanwhile, in 1886, A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte was rejected by the Paris art elite, a rejection that stung him deeply, and propelled him into turning his back on conventional art scene. He then joined ranks with the Groupe des Artistes Independants, a collective of French artists who had been similarly shunned or rejected by the established elite.
It was during this time that Seurat had begun to become interested in color theory and balance. It is also when he developed and perfected the technique of pointillism, in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image.
Seurat’s main influences in coming up with this technique were scientists, especially Michel Eugene Chevreul, a French chemist and tapestry restorer who produced the first color wheel of primary and intermediary hues. Chevreul advised artists to think and paint not just the color of the central object, but to add colors and make appropriate adjustments to achieve a harmony among colors.
In his work with tapestry, Chevreul discovered that two colors juxtaposed, slightly overlapping or very close together, would have the effect of another color when seen from a distance. The discovery of this phenomenon became the basis for the pointillist technique of the Neoimpressionist painters, one that Seurat utilized to great effect.
Georges Seurat died in Paris on March 29, 1891 at the age of 31. The work he left behind has become some of the more important examples of classic late 19th century art.