SEURAT

LA GRANDE JATTE

In this painting, showing Parisians enjoying a Sunday by the Seine, the artist reconciles a number of conflicting values, combining the innovations of the new scientific age with the enduring qualities of the timeless masterpieces of ancient art.

During the 1880's art was flourishing. Wealthy collectors were spending large sums on contemporary art. Young artists were excited by the prospects of a new century and actively sought to create a modern style of art that would be expressive of this new epoch. Seurat shows the influence of imperialism his work, note most figures are depicted in profile, reflecting the art style of ancient Egypt. Additionally soldiers are shown wearing the garb of the imperial age. The painting is quite static other than the six butterflies (which are in motion), the girl running and the small dog in the foreground. Seurat shows the influence of the industrial age melting social classes into one by mixing images. Note the oarsman lounging next to a middle class lady with her fan, and the gentleman "dandy" sitting nearby (lower left corner). Seurat includes coded messages for the viewer about the hypocrisy that was a feature of French society at the time. The monkey on a leash indicates that the woman, a prostitute, successfully feigns respectability. While the painting shows the fashion style of the 1880's the artist was more concerned about the use of color, new techniques in perspective (the painting should be viewed diagonally by holding the right side closer to the viewer's face while the left side points away at a 45 degree angle), the quality of light and the new method of applying paint to canvas (pointillism) which allows the eye to mix the "points" of pigment.