Georges Seurat (1859 – 1891) was a French Neo-Impressionist artist and is regarded as one of the four great post Impressionists. He developed revolutionary techniques in art that have proven to be remarkably influential.
Seurat was born in Paris, into an affluent middle-class family. He developed an interest in art from an incredibly early age. The young Georges was a very gifted student. Seurat studied at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts.
Here he received a traditional education in art with an emphasis on realism and composition. In 1879 he left the Ecole after he was conscripted into the army. He served for a year in the Brest Military Academy and after his military service was over returned to Paris.
The young man dedicated himself to his art and studied the works of the Old Masters and in particular the paintings of Eugène Delacroix. Support from his family allowed him to follow his dream of becoming an artist. This gave him the time to develop his own unique style freely without having to please a patron or the art establishment. Georges Seurat was a great draughtsman, and he is noted for his use of conte crayon.
George’s father was, Antoine Chrysostome Seurat, a lawyer who became a wealthy property dealer. His , mother was Ernestine Faivre. The artist had a brother, Émile Augustin, and a sister, Marie-Berthe, both older. His partner was Madeleine Knobloch and together they had two children.
Georges Seurat developed a number of styles. Many of his works are large scale murals. Seurat is best remembered for the development of the Neo-Impressionist technique called Pointillism.
This is flicking points of colour onto a canvas to create images and forms. Seurat created many beautiful images in this way. Another technique that he developed was chromoluminarism, this was the division of colours into points and not strokes as had been the tradition.
These dots would interact in the viewer’s eyes to form images and scenes. The Frenchman was a Neo-Impressionist and rejected the naturalism of the Impressionists and their exploration of colour and light. Seurat used scientific theories to understand light and colour and was more focused in urban landscapes than nature.
Seurat’s teacher was Henri Lehman a Franco-German artist at the École Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin. Georges rebelled against the conventional training and education he received here.
Seurat in his younger years concentrated on his drawings many of which are now much sought after. His first work exhibited at the prestigious Paris Saloon was a crayon drawing of his model. His first really important painting was Bathers at Asnières. This was the first work where Georges Seurat showed his unique style.
Seurat created seven monumental paintings and some 40-50 smaller paintings. Seurat was a prolific draughtsman and left over five hundred drawings.
There were a number of important influences on the work of Seurat. He was deeply influenced by the neo-Classical tradition. Many of his figures have a sculptural quality like the figures in neo-Classical historical paintings. Another influence was Eugène Delacroix.
Seurat was a born and bred Parisian. He only lived outside it once when he had to serve in Brest. The French capital inspired him right up until his death.
Seurat at times worked with Edmond Aman-Jean, a well-known symbolist painter. With Paul Signac, Seurat developed the Pointillist style.
Georges was not married to the mother of his children. This arrangement would have been scandalous in 19th century France. Seurat was not involved in politics, but his work was very controversial and was seen as too radical. His work was a reaction against Impressions the dominant school of painting in Paris and his work was widely criticised. Seurat’s style with his emphasis on calculated and almost logical brushstrokes has been criticized for being too mechanical.
Seurat’s last painting was the Circus which was unfinished at the time of his death. Despite its unfinished state, it is regarded as a masterpiece of post-Impressionism and now hangs in the famous Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Seurat very rarely left Paris and lived a quiet life. He lived quietly with his partner, his former model and their two children.
Seurat was stricken with an unknown illness possibly diphtheria and he dies in his family home. Sometime later his son appears to have died of the same illness. Seurat was only thirty-one when he died had he lived he would have painted many more masterpieces and perfected the techniques that he discovered.
His most famous work is the monumental ‘Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte”. Among his other famous paintings are a series of nude portraits Les Poseuses. Le Chalut a painting of dancers from 1890 is notable for its flat figures. Many of his charcoal drawings such as the portrait of Jean-Aman are among the finest in French art in the 19th century.
A preparatory study of the “Island of the Grand Jatte” (1884) was sold to an unidentified bidder at an auction for $35.2 million.
However, his depictions of urban scenes and sculptural figures influenced later artists such as the Expressionists. Many scholars believe that he was a pivotal influence on the Futurists.