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Georges Seurat
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Founder of Neo-Impressionism, Georges Seurat created a new painting technique using small brushstrokes of contrasting colors that became known as Pointillism. Applying his theories of color and line and his “divisionist” technique, Seurat’s oeuvre of over two hundred paintings, created over a period of only ten years, had a profound influence on the course of European and American art. He was also a prolific draftsman, producing both independent drawings and studies for his paintings. Seurat began his artistic training at a municipal art school directed by Justin Marie Lequien (1796-1881), where he met Edmond François Aman-Jean (1858-1936), who would become a life-long friend and colleague. He studied under Henri Lehmann (1814-1882) at the École des Beaux-Arts from February, 1878 until November, 1879, when he was conscripted for the French Army for one year. A sketchbook survives from his year at Brest in the army, showing his increasing maturity as a draftsman. Returning to Paris in November, 1880, Seurat developed his mature drawing style within a few years, using black conté crayon on textured paper. His technique produced velvety shades and subtle contrasts. His portrait of his friend Aman-Jean was shown at the 1883 Paris Salon. Seurat was a careful student of theories about color, which he began to apply in his paintings. At this time he began using small criss-cross brushstrokes in his paintings, which he used in his first important large painting, Une Baignade, Asnières (Bathers at Asnières, 1884, National Gallery, London). It was rejected by the jury for the 1884 Salon, but was shown at the Salon des Indépendants that year. Through the latter exhibition he met Paul Signac (1863-1935), who would become a close collaborator and developer of the “divisionist” technique. Une Baignade was followed by his best-known painting, Un dimanche d'été à l'île de la Grande Jatte (Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1886, Art Institute of Chicago). After working on preliminary studies and the painting itself from 1884, Seurat repainted La Grand Jatte in his now-famous style, with tiny, detached strokes of pure color too small to be distinguished when looking at the entire work but making his paintings shimmer with brilliance. While working on La Grande Jatte Seurat met Camille Pissarro (1831-1903), who would paint in a similar “divisionist” style. Pissarro invited Seurat to exhibit at the eighth (and last) Impressionist exhibition in 1886, where La Grande Jatte brought him celebrity and support for his work by Symbolist writers, such as Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907). The Symbolist critic Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) first applied the term “Neo-Impressionism” to describe his work. He also made changes to Une Baignade, probably in 1887, adding color in the same “divisionist” style. He incorporated Pointillism as a dominant element, even on the frames for his paintings. For many years Seurat visited Brittany during the summer, returning to Paris for the winter. He produced a number of paintings of Brittany and Paris, including an 1889 painting of the uncompleted Eiffel Tower, as well as several large paintings of indoor scenes. Seurat exhibited frequently in Paris, as well as Amsterdam and New York. Octave Maus (1856-1919), co-editor of the Brussels journal L’Art Moderne and organizer of the exhibitions of the avant-garde group Les Vignt, invited Seurat to exhibit La Grande Jatte with Les Vignt in Brussels after having seen it in the 1886 Impressionist exhibition. Seurat showed it and six other paintings at the February, 1887 Les Vignt exhibition and showed other works at the 1889 and 1891 Les Vignt exhibitions, becoming an inspiration for Belgian Symbolist artists. In 1891 he died prematurely at the age of thirty-one during an epidemic of diphtheria. A memorial exhibition in 1892 with Les Vignt in Brussels included nineteen of Seurat’s paintings, twelve oil studies and ten drawings. (TNB 6/2010) Selected bibliography: Dorra, Henri and John Rewald. Seurat: L’oeuvre peint: Biographie et catalogue critique. Paris: Les Beaux-arts, 1959. Hauptman, Jodi. Georges Seurat: The Drawings. Exhibition catalog. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007. Herbert, Robert L. and Françoise Cachin, et al. Georges Seurat, 1859-1891. Exhibition catalog. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991. Herbert, Robert L. Seurat: Drawings and Paintings. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. Rewald, John. Seurat: a biography. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1990.