Seurat and Modernism

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Modernist art was characterized by the social changes that took place in the late 19th century which inspired artists to discover different themes different from the traditional ones. The first school of modernist art was the post-impressionist movement, which began in the late 19th century where Georges Seurat among others became a key figure during this movement. The rapid changes due to the industrial revolution affected how artists observed the world around them and the ways they chose to express the same to others. The post-impressionist period thrived through the use of direct observation of the changes taking place around the artists. In addition, technological advancements changed the methods artist adopted in panting, for example, Georges Seurat use of divisionism in his paintings. Painters played a huge role in society; they would stroll around and paint the observations made about society. In A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte-1884 the audience views society through the eyes of the painter, where Georges Seurat illustrated different ways people would like leisure in that period. The post-impressionist period continued to use impressionist systems in paintings where the primary role of the artists was to re-create their view of a scene through a portrait.

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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte-1884 Seurat’s use of pointillism and light are used to create a new modernist art that focuses on the artist’s point of view about a scene.

Modern art is characterized by its diversity where the common characteristics were the importance of art in people’s lives, increased value where painters were allowed to follow their rules. The movement before modernist art involved the depiction of religious scenes whose primary role was to educate its audience. On the other hand, modernist art involved the interpretation of an artist’s experiences or themes of interest to them through aesthetic engagement rather than being controlled by the government or religious institutions (Berleant, 2015). As a result, the painter held control of how paintings would be completed and the techniques that would be used in the painting. Hence, artists during this period focused on eradicating the limitations of the impressionist period. The artists help more power, he or she would make paintings of the observations they made about the world around them. La Grande Jatte-1884 by George Seurat is a good example of a depiction of the world from a painter’s point of view. George Seurat’s end goal was to provide the audience with a pure form of expression on how people would leisure while on the island. Observation of people going through their routine of leisure is evident in the image.
Post-impressionist art focused on the use of color or motion to express different scenes of modern life. The effect of light on the painting was key where the emphasis was on how the eye views color. While painting the A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte-1884, Seurat would visit the park, and through observation, he would paint the characters within the paintings from what he saw in the park (Seiferle, 2018). His focus being the modern people, Seurat understood the importance of color and the optical effect of color when looking at a painting. Through the painting, Seurat shows his position as an observer of modern life. The depiction of different figures within the painting shows the evolution of the society at the time; people were moving from realism to artificialness of society. The figures are static, with the figure of a young gild in orange being the only figure that is motion compared to the rest (Potter, 2005). Through the painting the painter tries to show how society at the time specifically the middle class adapted to the changing society, Sundays had become a day of relaxation and people would flock to green sceneries to relax and enjoy their Sundays. The pressures of the modern world had left the middle-class with one day of the week where they would sit around and enjoy themselves in nature.

The scientific changes in form, expression, and color influenced Georges Seurat’s work in the post-impressionist period. Through the use of divisionism and pointillism, Seurat understood the effect of color of the eyes and used it to yield the vivid tones that can only be achieved through optical mixing. Optical color mixing is a technique that gained popularity during the late 19th century where the viewer’s eyes perception of color is achieved through a mixture of two or more colors positioned near each other to create a particular effect (Albers, 2013). In essence, the resultant optical color is the mixture of the colors used in the painting, for example when blue and yellow are used in close proximity will result in a green color, which is not on the surface but the eye sees the green color. Seurat achieved optical color mixing through pointillism, where he used small dots of color on a painting to create a color transition for the audience (Albers, 2013). For example, in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte-1884 on the grass that seems to fall on the shadow side of the sun, the colors used are, blue, yellow, and black (complementary color) which is interpreted by the mind and eye as a darker tone of green, the effect the sun’s shadow has on grass. The complementary color, black, is used to create a darker shade of green on the shadow side of the painting. Using the pointillism or divisionism technique allowed the audience an optical mix of colors and created the illusion of the intended impression from the canvas.

The portrait A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte-1884?­ took two years to complete, from 1884 to 1886, Seurat began with a composition of the part without the figures with his focus being the interaction of color and light. Looking at the painting, there are different ways light is represented, the lighter side shows areas where the light is more evident, and the darker shades represent the effects light has when it hits an object, shadows are created. For example, each figure in on the sunny side of the painting there is a shadow to accompany it showing the effects of light on an object. The clothing the figures wear is also affected by the light effect; those closest to the audiences have a darker shade while those in the middle and farthest have a lighter shade due to the effect of light. According to Velimirovic (2018), the painting is a depicting on Paris during the industrial period, where the woman fishing depicts the prostitution that had become rampant during that period. Through light, Seurat presented the world with an image of what he thought about the middle-class living in Paris.

Through observation, artists were able to depict how society was and how it was affected by the industrial revolution through pointillism as a technique and light effects on figures in the painting. Artists like Georges Seurat did retain some of the impressionist techniques of painting such as the use of bright colors and use short brushstrokes, but they deviated where they no longer focused on themes surrounding religion of other mythical themes. Post-impressionist painters explored themes showing how they interpreted the modern world that was slowly changing due to the industrial revolution. This would mark the advent of the first school of modernist movement where Georges Seurat’s work A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte-1884 began a new technique of painting and way of thinking about the modern world. (Total words 1264)

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