Monday, December 7, 2015

Seurat, The King of the Dot

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Seurat, The King of the Dot 


Georges Seurat, The Eiffel Tower 1889
Oil on panel 9 1/2 x 6 in.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Form: Form: Seurat's style is called "pointalism" because Seurat painted by putting dots of pure color one next to the other.  When the viewer moves away from the painting the dots are mixed together by our eyes.  This optical mixing is very similar to what happens with the individual pixels on the computer. Seurat's color were often the most pure and saturated hues available and in order to modulate the colors he would often place a dot of a complimentary color next to another in order to desaturate the colors.  Often he would place two primary colors next to another in order to creat a secondary color.  By placing a blue dot next to a yellow one he could create a green field.
Make sure you click the picture to get a close up view of it.
Iconography: The Eiffel tower is a much better subject than people for Seurat, especially because of his 'scientific' and analytical view of painting. because of the cooler colors used for the sky, and the warmer colors used for the tower, he was able to create a definition between the man made building and nature. It also worked to create a sense of atmospheric perspective, as though we are seeing the tower through the fog of early morning.
Context: Seurat was a native of France, so the Eiffel tower was a fairly common and familiar sight for him. 

  
  

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
1884-86
Oil on canvas Art Institute of Chicago
Pointalism/Post Impressionism
According to art critic Robert Hughes,

The "scientific" painter with his abstruse color theories recedes somewhat, and an inspired lyricist comes to the fore--a 19th century Giorgione. As the art historian Robert L. Herbert puts it in his catalog essay, Seurat "wanted to be perceived as a technician of art, and so he borrowed from science some of the signs of its authority, including regularity and clarity of pattern. "But, as Herbert points out, Seurat's dots are not really dots either. Far from laboring away at a mechanical surface programmed in advance by theories of complementary color, Seurat displayed the most intuitive and mobile sense of the relations between sight and mark. One of the miracles of his art is his ability to analyze light, not through the simple juxtaposition of dabs of color but by a layering of tiny brush marks built up from the underpainted ground, so that the eventual surface becomes a fine-grained pelt, seamless and yet infinitely nuanced, from which captured light slowly radiates. 

Against the cult of the moment. by Robert Hughes. Time, 9/23/91, Vol. 138 Issue 12, p74, 2p, 3c, 1b  HTML Full Text
Iconography: Seurat was disdainful of the practice of Sunday afternoon strolls in the park, as they were covers for peoples' naughtiness. Much like an 'afternoon delight', the park was where married men would go to dally with their mistresses, unemployed men would lay on the grass and smoke, and women would bring their unruly children to run rampant. If you look at the right side of the painting, you will see the woman with the umbrella walking with the man. She has a pet monkey on a leash and there is a dog frolicking near it. The woman is the  mistress, the monkey is a symbol of an 'exotic pet', which the woman would herself be considered to be, and the dog is a symbol for fidelity, of which the man seems to have none of.
According to www.artchive.com

"Seurat spent two years painting this picture, concentrating painstakingly on the landscape of the park before focusing on the people; always their shapes, never their personalities. Individuals did not interest him, only their formal elegance. There is no untidiness in Seurat; all is beautifully balanced. The park was quite a noisy place: a man blows his bugle, children run around, there are dogs. Yet the impression we receive is of silence, of control, of nothing disordered. I think it is this that makes La Grande Jatte so moving to us who live in such a disordered world: Seurat's control. There is an intellectual clarity here that sets him free to paint this small park with astonishing poetry. Even if the people in the park are pairs or groups, they still seem alone in their concision of form - alone but not lonely. No figure encroaches on another's space: all coexist in peace. "This is a world both real and unreal - a sacred world. We are often harried by life's pressures and its speed, and many of us think at times: Stop the world, I want to get off! In this painting, Seurat has "stopped the world," and it reveals itself as beautiful, sunlit, and silent - it is Seurat's world, from which we would never want to get off." 
Context: According to art critic Robert Hughes,

Seurat, like Masaccio or Mozart, was a true prodigy. Born in 1859, he succumbed to an attack of galloping diphtheria in 1891, at 31. This all too early death has had the effect of concentrating his life around a single stylistic effort, the invention of pointillism. The one thing everyone knows about Seurat is that he painted rather stiff pictures composed of dots, in the belief that this system of breaking down color into its constituent parts was scientific and not, like Monet's Impressionism, intuitive. Had he lived as long as Monet, Seurat would have been a hale duffer of 70 when his many heirs, like Mondrian, were coming into their maturity as artists. What would he have left behind him by then? Possibly--if one can guess from his last big paintings like Chahut, 1889-90, and Cirque, 1890-91-something quite different from the calm,composed "Egyptian" classicism of his best-known work, the sublime Un Dimanche a la Grande Jatte of 1884-86. For the last paintings are more frenetic, more consciously urban and, above all, more influenced by mass culture (the posters of Jules Cheret, for instance) and working-class entertainment (fairgrounds, circuses, cafes concerts) than anything he had made before. We would then remember Seurat not only as a great synthesizer of classical order and modernist perception but also as the artist who fused both with the exacerbated delights of the mass culture that was emerging at the turn of the century: the true "painter of modern life," as anticipated by Baudelaire. The history of modern art, in terms of its engagement with "low" culture, might then have been quite different. Because he died so young, we have the first artist but only hints of the second. Against the cult of the moment. by Robert Hughes. Time, 9/23/91, Vol. 138 Issue 12, p74, 2p, 3c, 1b  HTML Full Text