Born into a well-to-do family in Paris in 1859, Seurat trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was influenced by Delacroix and the Barbizon painters. He was introduced to Impressionism through his friend the painter Paul Signac and became captivated by the movement’s attention to light and colour.
Seurat used classical compositions to bring order to his pictures. Bathers at Asnières (1884) is on the scale of a traditional history painting, yet the scene depicts office workers and labourers. The effect was both archaic and modern. A committed socialist, Seurat painted Parisian everyday life in a way that had traditionally been reserved for kings. When it was submitted to the Paris Salon it was immediately rejected, which led to Seurat joining forces with other artists to form the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants, which enabled artists to present their work to the public without going through the official selective channels.
Of the many innovations Seurat introduced to painting, pointillism is perhaps the best-known technique. Using the scientific theory of colour vision, he juxtaposed little spots of paint next to each other like a mosaic. It was to revolutionise the way artists thought about colour and light.
When Seurat’s pointillist tour-de-force, Un dimanche d’été à l’Île de La Grande Jatte (1884–86), made its debut at the eighth and final Impressionist Exhibition in May 1886, it caused a sensation. A monumental work, the painting drew widespread attention in both the press and amongst the public, who were astonished by its large cast of characters, conjured through a myriad of colourful dots.
In response to his critics, who questioned the limits of pointillism in depicting the human figure, Seurat then produced Les Poseuses in 1888, an interior composition of three nudes. A version of this painting, Les Poseuses Ensemble (Petite version), sold for $149.2 million at Christie’s New York in 2022 as part of Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection — a world record price for the artist at auction.
Seurat died of suspected diphtheria at the age of 32. The critic Jules Christophe wrote, ‘A sudden stupid sickness carried him off in a few hours when he was about to triumph: I curse providence and death.’ Yet his art continued to have a significant influence on the subsequent developments in modern art.
Paysage, homme assis (Etude pour Un dimanche après-midi à l'Ile de la Grande Jatte )
Paysage, homme assis ( étude pour Un Dimanche d'été à l'Ile de La Grande Jatte
Homme assoupi, un autre debout lisant, deux femmes (planche issue du Carnet de Brest )