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 Georges Seurat  (1859 - 1891)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: neo impressionist painting-figure and landscape

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Parisian born, Georges Seurat was a late 19th-century modernist painter who was as interested in science as he was in painting.  In many art history books, he is credited as being the innovator of Pointillism.  However, his methods were complicated enough that Pointillism is only partially descriptive of his accomplishments, and the more accurate description is "founder of the 19th-century French school of Neo-Impressionism.  Using this technique, he created huge compositions with tiny, detached strokes of pure colour too small to be distinguished when looking at the entire work but making his paintings shimmer with brilliance." (WebMuseum)

Gaining scientific knowledge, he experimented with styles and "developed a specific color wheel based on the fragmentation of light and limited himself to the colors of the spectrum, working out careful compositions that fused design and color."  (barewalls) Because it is an expansion of Pointillism, many scholars define his style as Divisionism or Neo Impressionism.  Pointillism implies rounded dots, and many of his markings deviated from that as they were squares, triangles and irregular shapes.  This method was also much more time consuming and complicated than the capturing of the 'fleeting moment' in one painting session of the Impressionists.  But like the Impressionists, Divisionism advanced ways of painting directly from the tube onto the canvas.

Seurat studied painting with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, having previously worked with sculpture.  His formal training was academic and included much copying of Old Masters.  He studied art theory on his own, and became much interested in the interplay between light and color.  He did not accept the underlying concepts of Impressionism as espoused by Monet and his followers, and between 1880 and 1882, he experimented with black and white drawings relative to visual perception and light.  In 1883, he exhibited one of them, Aman-Jean, at the Paris Salon.

As a base for his explorations and then as an expansion into color from black and white, he used writings of a French chemist, Michel Eugéne Chevreul, who among many positions held, was the director of the Gobelin Tapestry Works.   In this position, he carried out research on color contrast, and the resulting text, completed in 1839, was The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors.  (wikipedia) 

The first painting of Seurat where he fused design and color into composition was Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte, now his most famous painting and in the collection of the Chicago Art Institute.  To execute this work, which he completed in 1885, he did twenty-three preliminary drawings and then had thirty-eight sessions of painting---"a far cry from the canvases the Impressionists completed in one sitting." 

Because of his violation of traditional methods, Seurat was refused admission to other Salons, so he and other pioneering artists formed the Societe des Artistes Independants.  Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte was the featured work of the Societe's 1886 exhibition.

During the 1880s, Seurat was spending his winters in Paris and summers on the north coast of France.

In 1891, shortly after firming his theories, Georges Seurat died from a septic sore throat at the age of thirty-one.  "He left behind over four hundred drawings, six completed sketchbooks, and about sixty canvases, five of them several meters square in size."  A group of followers carried on his work including Camille Pissarro, who eventually decided the methods were too complicated, and Paul Signac, who carried on the theories of Seurat, committed to replacing the 'muddy mixtures' of Impressionism with luminous, intense colors.

Seurat talked very little of his private life, but after he died, his friends learned that his mistress was the model for his 1890 painting, Young Woman Powdering Herself (Courtauld Institute)



WebMuseum, Paris,

Biography from South Coast Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Georges Seurat was born on December 2, 1859, in Paris.  In 1875 he attended the municipal school of sculptor Justin Lequien.  From March 1878 to November 1879, he was enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  After a year of military service on the Breton coast, Seurat returned to Paris.  From the late 1870s, his interest in current scientific theories about color perception and chromatics grew, and by 1881, he had studied Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors (1839) by Michel-Eugène Chevreul and treatises by Charles Blank, Thomas Couture, Ogden N. Rood, and David Sutter.

A portrait drawing by Seurat was selected for the 1883 Salon.  In 1884 after being rejected by the Salon, he, with Henri-Edmond Cross, Maximilian Luce, Odilon Redon, and Paul Signac, founded the Salon des Indépendants.  With Cross and Signac, Seurat developed Divisionism (the term he preferred to Pointilism), breaking down colors into their constituent hues and applying them side by side on canvas.  In Seurat's method, which he also called peinture optique, colors placed next to each other were intended to mix in the eye of the viewer and approximate the quality of natural light.  In 1886, Seurat met mathematician and scientist Charles Henry.  Vocal in his ideas about the interconnections between aesthetics and science, Henry influenced Seurat's desire to logically control color and space and his later attempts to find methodical, scientific means of composition.

In addition to numerous smaller works, Seurat created seven major paintings, the best-known of which is perhaps Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte (1884?86, Art Institute of Chicago) first exhibited in the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886.  Throughout the late 1880s, he summered on the Channel coast, working outdoors from the landscape and following the example of Impressionism [more] in selecting his subject matter.  In the late 1880s, he expanded his depictions of bourgeois Parisian life to include scenes of circuses and cabarets.

Shortly after installing the 1891 Salon des Indépendants, Seurat took ill.  He died on March 29 in Paris, after a brief bout with pneumonia or meningitis.  At his parents' request, the contents of Seurat's studio were classified and, after a proposed gift to the Louvre was refused, dispersed among Madeleine Knobloch (his common-law wife) and several of Seurat's followers.


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