I usually get strange looks when I tell folks that Seurat is probably my favourite painter. Most artists like and appreciate what he did, but not many think of him as their favourite. What I like about Seurat is how analytical he was. He tried to leave nothing to chance, never starting a work until he believed that he knew exactly where he was going. That doesn’t mean that accidents didn’t happen, and when they did he used them – if it came within the idea that he was trying to communicate.
Probably the most important aspect of Seurats painting was the theory of optical colour mixing. He didn’t mix his colours on a palette before painting them onto his canvas. He placed dots of unmixed colours next to each other. His idea was that the colours would then merge in the spectator’s eye, without the colours loosing any of their vibrancy. This did not meen that when he placed yellow next to blue that the colours would mix to make green in our eyes. Scientists of the time were studying new colour theories. Seurat took them to develop into his own aesthetic philosophy.
He worked on drawings and small paintings in order to plan out his paintings. He then covered his canvas with paint. On top of this he worked in local colour using quite broad textured brush strokes. It was on top of this underpainting that he then worked up his small dots of colour. It must have taken great concentration and dedication. The technique became known as “pointillism.”
I think that his masterpiece must be “La Grande Jatte.” He started this painting in 1884, and spent two years working on it. He made numerous studies of the families that sat and walked and picnicked by the river side. He then wove all of his studies into this large canvas. It is a very calm picture, although I would have thought that there would have been more bustle and a more rowdy set of people than Seurat has given us. The painting was shown at the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886 where it didn’t go down well with the public.
Seurat died at the very young age of 32. In his short life time he pushed art such an incredible distance that we wonder how far he could have gone with another fifty or sixty years. We will never know, but it is my opinion that if he had lived he would have become the first non representational painter.