Georges Seurat is a famous post-impressionist French artist popularly known for devising the pointillism technique. This technique involved applying small dots or strokes of colour on surfaces to make unique pieces of art. When viewed from a distance, the dots or strokes visually blend together to give the artwork a unique brilliance. Here is a detailed look into his biography.
Georges-Pierre Seurat was born on the 2nd of December 1859, in Paris, France. He was born to a wealthy family as the youngest child of Antoine Chrysostome Seurat and his wife, Ernestine Seurat. He had older siblings, Émile Augustin, his brother and a sister, Marie-Berthe. His father, Antoine, had accumulated a lot of wealth through his success in property speculation.
However, Antoine lived separately, where he spent most of his time in Le Raincy and made weekly visits to his family in boulevard de Magenta. In 1871, his family temporarily relocated to Fontainebleau following the Franco-Prussian War.
Seurat had a great passion for art from a young age, and to introduce him to the art world, he received informal lessons from his uncle, Paul Haumonté, an amateur artist and a textile dealer. In 1875, he began his first art classes at the École Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin. It was a local art school near his home, which was ran by sculptor Justin Lequien. Later in 1878, he joined the Ecole des Beaux-Arts Academy ran by Henri Lehmann. Henri was a disciple of Ingres, a famous painter who painted portraits and conventional nudes. At the Academy, his studies mainly focused on drawings and compositions, including copying drawings by old art masters.
He spent most of his time reading on his own, visiting libraries and going to exhibitions. During one of his library visits, he discovered a book that would inspire him throughout his art career. The book was "Essay on the Unmistakable Signs of Art," 1827 by Humbert de Superville, a famous painter from Geneva. It focused on the future of aesthetics, including the relationship between lines and images in art. Additionally, he was inspired by the works of David Sutter, another Genevan aesthetician who combined musicology and mathematics in his art. These artists formed a basis for his strong interest in the scientific and intellectual base of art.
Seurat was not impressed by the Academy's strict academic rules and left in 1879 after one year of training. In April of the same year, he attended an impressionist exhibition where he discovered the incredible works of Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet. The two were artists liberated from the rigidities of the academic rules, and their paintings inspired his work in later years.
In November 1879, he started his military service at Brest Military Academy. Here he spent most of his spare time reading about art and filling his sketchbooks with drawings of seascapes, fellow recruits in the army service and street scenes. He stayed in the Military Academy for one year, after which he left to focus on his art career.
Early Career Growth and Innovation
After returning to Paris, Seurat shared a studio with his fellow artist and friend Aman-Jean. During this period, he spent two years mastering the unique art of monochrome and also studied some works of Eugène Delacroix, focusing on his use of colours on drawings.
In 1883, his first exhibited work was shown at the Salon, and it was a crayon drawing of Aman-Jean. The same year, he channelled most of his time on his first major painting, Bathers at Asnières. This canvas painting showed young men calmly relaxing by the Seine River. It represented aspects of both impressionism and his neoclassical training. His use of light and colour represented impressionism, while the smooth and simplified texture, which was well outlined, showed some aspects of traditionalism. Additionally, Seurat prepared this piece with several oil sketches and drawings before getting down to the final work in the studio, which shows some deviations from impressionism.
Seurat showed the Bathers at Asnières painting at Paris Salon, but it was rejected. He later showed it again at the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants. Among the society members, he interacted and became friends with other artists. However, Seurat and a group of his friends were not pleased by the society's disorganisation. They split up to form their own artist's body known as Société des Artistes Indépendants.
Georges Seurat had a great passion for colour theory, from which he applied most of the contemporary ideas in his works. This is part of the reason why he joined in on the idea of a scientific approach to painting using colour. This approach revolved around the idea that there was a natural law governing how colours worked together to reveal emotions in art. He aimed at creating a new artistic "language" that would display visual images using lines, perception and colour. The theoretical visual image was referred to as chromoluminarism classified under pointillism in today's art industry. This visual language refers to a technique that requires the eyes to combine adjacent colours rather than the artist mixing the paint segments before painting. He felt that this technique would make the paintings more brilliant to the viewer.
In 1886, Seurat exhibited his painting, La Grande Jatte, at an impressionists group show where its pointillism technique aroused other parties' interests. Some of the people who got excited by his work were Signac, Pissaro and Émile Verhaeren, a Belgian poet. Félix Fénéon praised his work in an avant-garde review. Later, his work was exhibited by Durand-Ruel in New York City and Paris.
In 1887, he started working on Les Poseuses. In the following year, 1888, he completed Les Poseuses and La Parade, after which he and Signac went for a private viewing in Brussels. This viewing was organised by a group of independent artists, and here, he showed seven of his canvas paintings, including La Grande Jatte.
Seurat also participated in another exhibition, Salon des Indépendants, in 1889. It was during this period that he painted Signac's portrait for the first time.
After the debut of Bathers at Asnières, he began working on his next big piece, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," which became one of his famous pieces. The painting depicted members of different social classes spending their leisure time at a waterfront park on the Seine River in Paris.
In this painting, Seurat used his pointillism techniques in the form of tiny dots of individual colours in a systematic way. The dots appeared overlapping and adjacent to each other and he aimed at making them more appealing to the viewers' eyes. He began working on this painting in 1884 and it took him almost two years to complete it. However, he spent most of his time at the park sketching in preparation for the main work. This 10 feet wide painting currently resides at the Art Institute of Chicago. He also made a related painting, which was much smaller, "Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," which is currently located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Other works by him include circus, Eiffel Tower and Gray Weather.
Seurat had a romantic relationship with a model, Madeleine Knobloch. She was the model behind his painting, Jeune femme se poudrant of 1889 to 1890. However, they concealed their relationship from their families and friends. They later moved in together in 1889 and had their firstborn son Pierre-Georges in 1890. During the same year, Seurat spent most of his summertime on the coast of Gravelines. He painted four beautiful canvases, among them Petit Fort Philippe and The Channel of Gravelines. While here, he also made eight oil panels and a few other drawings.
Georges Seurat died on the 29th of March 1891, at his parent's home In Paris. The cause of his early death is uncertain, but sources claim he died of Meningitis. At the time of his death, Madeleine was pregnant with their second child, who also died shortly after birth.
Although he died at a young age, Seurat left behind a legacy in the art industry. He is seen as the father of pointillism for introducing new concepts and ideas on the usage of colour in painting. He brought a new visual twist in paintings based on how the eyes work with colour in art to create a visual image.