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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Georges Seurat was behind an important artistic technique which peaked during the late 19th century. It was generally termed Pointilism and involved the arrangement of carefully placed touches of colour as dots, which all together would produce the overall composition.

The overall output of paintings from his career was sadly stunted by his short lifetime, but even in this restricted life span he was still able to leave behind some of the most memorable paintings from the overall Neo-Impressionist set of movements. Pointilism was just one item under this banner, and the purpose seemed to be to take the achievements of the Impressionists and push things on even further. It is rare for one artist to be so heavily linked to a particular art movement, as if the pair can never be separated by that is precisely the case with regards Seurat and Pointilism. His most famous paintings were undoubtably Bathers at Asnières and A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, with these two scenes capturing an enviable life for 19th century French people who were able to enjoy considerable amounts of leisure time for perhaps the first time.

Whilst Seurat's technical approach was entirely unique, the content that he covered using it was entirely in keeping with the modern ideas of 19th century France. Many artists were depicting the lives of the middle classes within their work who were now able to go about leisure activities. Whilst many were still living day to day, there was at least now a widening of opportunity and many creative minds wanted to reflect these different activities within their work. Bathing, for instance, would become one of the most common themes within the Impressionist movement and Seurat would take their for himself too. All of this led to a series of artworks that were positive, almost joyful, and were in stark contrast to some of the earlier French art which focused on the lives of peasants in rural France, for example. This positive outlook also brought about a brighter set of palettes and Seurat himself was known to have studied a number of theories around the use of colour in order to develop his own work.

It can be said that Seurat was keen to move things on from Impressionism, but at the same time he clearly took in their tendency to consider changing colours and the impact of the environment upon objects. Monet would study how light would change throughout the day, or within changing weather conditions on things such as architecture or nature, and these studies would become the highlights of his career, gifting us famous titles such as his Water Lilies, Haystacks and also views of Rouen Cathedral. Seurat would come to learn that by delivering certain colours together in neighbouring pointilist dots, he could achieve a great impact upon the eye than by just mixing colours one at a time himself. He would put these dots in arrangements in a similar way to how other oil painters would slowly add layer upon layer of different tones in order to create different forms. The effect of his approach would be most noticeable when viewing each piece from close up, but far away the forms would merge into a smooth, complete composition.

There were a number of theories around the use of colour within European art during the 19th and early 20th century, with two of the most notable names involved in that being Klee and Kandinsky. Artists were starting to think more indepth about what they were produced on canvas, and although many theories would come and go in quick succession, this was an important period in the development towards the new styles that appeared in the following century. The idea of Divisionism, where colours are separated into individual dots of colour feels distinctly appropriate today, with the news print media as well as digital art, where every single image can be reduced down to pixels of colour. He was essentially hand producing art in the style of digital art, placing every pixel one at a time. It is saddening that just as his unique approach was achieving success that his life would be cut short so early. Thankfully, he was prolific enough to leave behind an impressive body of work which was still enough to influence a vast number of European painters, some of whom were active at the time, with others following on in the decades that followed.

Model, Back View Georges Seurat
Model, Back View
Trees, Winter Georges Seurat
Trees, Winter
Peasant Woman Seated in the Grass Georges Seurat
Peasant Woman Seated in the Grass
Study for Bathers at Asnières Georges Seurat
Study for Bathers at Asnières
Standing Model, Study for Les Poseuses Georges Seurat
Standing Model, Study for Les Poseuses
Port-en-Bessin, Sunday Georges Seurat
Port-en-Bessin, Sunday
Bathers (Study for Bathers at Asnières) Georges Seurat
Bathers (Study for Bathers at Asnières)
La Grande Jatte Georges Seurat
La Grande Jatte
The Seine seen from La Grande Jatte (La Senna alla Grande-Jatte) Georges Seurat
The Seine seen from La Grande Jatte (La Senna alla Grande-Jatte)
Port-en-Bessin Georges Seurat
The Seine at Courbevoie Georges Seurat
The Seine at Courbevoie