Georges Seurat: the Scientific Artist.

Georges Seurat was born Georges-Pierre Seurat in Paris to a wealthy family on December 2, 1859. In 1878, he went to the Ecole de Beaux-arts. He did his military service in Brest in 1879. Then he spent 2 years of drawing in black and white in Paris. Seurat was not concerned about making things that sell; his parents were well off and helped him out.

He spent the year of 1883 working on “Bathing at Ausnieres”, using short strokes of colour. It was rejected by the official Paris Salon exhibit in 1884. Frustrated, he helped form the exhibit of the “Societe des Artistes Independants” (“Society of Independent Artists”), a new yearly exhibit by avant-garde artists that had no jury and no prizes. The exhibit itself was called “Salon des Independants”. It became new showcase for new artists because anyone could show for a fee. Through this group, he met Signac, another founding member of the exhibit, and another artist who had the same beliefs about art as he.

Seurat took a scientific approach to painting and had very formal ideas of composition. He took Impressionism a step further in that instead of quick brush strokes to create a scene, he used dots of colour. From close up, his paintings look like lots of dots of colour; the further back they’re viewed, the smoother the picture looks. The smaller the dots, the sharper the lines and the smoother the effect as the eyes blur the dots at a distance. Instead of mixing the colours on the palette, the colour mixing was achieved on the canvas through dots of primary colour. To produce vibrancy, would paint complementary coloured dots side by side. Like the Impressionists, he avoided using black.

Seurat called this method Divisionism, but it became better known as Pointillism and Neo-Impressionism. It was very methodical and took a lot of patience. It was not great at conveying movement.

Seurat spent 2 years on “Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte”, painting it on ten feet of canvas. Every morning he would go on location and sketch, and every afternoon he would paint in his studio, often late. If he needed a breath of fresh air, he would take a long walk around Paris.

“La Grande Jatte” was his first major ‘Pointillism’ painting. He exhibited it at the Impressionist exhibit in 1886. Reaction was mixed, but there was definite reaction.

He moved to a studio close to Signac, on Boulevard de Clichy in Montmartre. Many artists met there regularly, including Degas, Gauguin, van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec. Seurat himself was not sociable or talkative, unless he was speaking about his own theories and ideas.

Starting in 1887, he went from dots to small lines, and experimented with effects of different lines. He experimented with the configuration of the lines: when he slanted small lines upward, general effect was happiness, horizontal lines were calm, lines sloping downward were sad....

In 1889 he moved to a quieter street nearby. He died at 31, likely from meningitis and is buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery (The same cemetery as Jim Morrison, Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and many other famous people.)

After Georges Pierre Seurat’s death, Paul Signac became the leader of Neo-Impressionism. He continued in pointillist style into the 1900s, but started using rectangular dots instead of round ones, and generally increased the vibrancy of the colours.

You can see examples of Georges Seurat's pointillist work on display at the Musee d'Orsay.