The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603
Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte
130 Paintings and Drawings by Seurat, As Well As
Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Signac
June 9 – September 19, 2004
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 6, 2004
(Following text assisted by Art Institute of Chicago Press Notes). This striking and fascinating exhibition explores George-Pierre Seurat’s (1859-91) planning and creation of the famous painting, La Grande Jatte (1884), in its signature technique of Pointillism, from its first stages to its legacy and its historical recognition at The Art Institute of Chicago, at which it is said that this masterpiece will never travel. This painting arrived at The Art Institute in 1926, having first been exhibited in Paris in 1886 at the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition. The Art Institute has combined its resources in science, art history, and technology to provide new information for the many visitors expected to this major art event.
Forty different drawings and paintings that relate to La Grande Jatte have been collected, many of which are conté crayon studies and oil sketches, all of which led to the final, full-sized painting. Paintings of Seurat’s contemporaries, whom he admired and emulated, Camille Pissarro and Pissarro’s son, Lucien, Signac, Auguste Renoir, and Claude Monet, are juxtaposed with those of Seurat to examine Seurat’s impact on the Neoimpressionist movement. Seurat’s early works, in 1881-82, followed by his experiments with the science of primary colors and optical effects, pointillist daubs and dashes, enhancement of painted figures already on his canvas, and the addition of a painted border for his work, are all examined through text, audio-guide, and short videos in the exhibit galleries.
The Art Institute has digitally “corrected” the faded original painting using science and computer techniques. The digital painting is also exhibited, along with the original 82 by 121 inch painting, re-glazed and re-framed, using laminated, anti-reflective glass. Seurat created this renowned masterpiece at the age of 26, and he died soon after at age 31. His early figure studies, shown in this exhibit, were drawn when he was only 19. He liked to use black chalk and rough paper, developing chiaroscuro, black/white, contrasting effects. Seurat came from a refined, middle-class, Parisian family, and his models depicted leisure activities.
In early drawings (1881-85), such as Vase with Flowers, Girl in Slouch Hat, Elegant Woman, and Woman with Bouquet, Seurat experimented with black against white, to make the black appear darker and the white appear lighter. He simultaneously began studies for La Grande Jatte. Stone Breaker (1882) is reminiscent of Cézanne, with strong muscularity and minimal color and detail. A second painting, Stone Breaker and Wheelbarrow, also 1882, is brighter and more yellow. This exhibit also includes Millet’s rustic peasants and Delacroix’ color opposites.
A collection of works by Seurat’s contemporaries, such as Pissarro’s Repose, Young Female Peasant (1882) and Renoir’s Sunset on English Channel (1883), exemplify in the former, the luscious merging of colors, and in the latter, splashes of white foam on rocks and sea in browns, blues, and greens. Seurat continued to emulate his peers, using their subjects, such as views of the Seine, making tiny paintings on site. On a larger scale, Seurat’s Le Bec du Hoc (1885) was painted in Normandy on the coast with an enormous cliff rising against the horizon. We are shown how he uses purples against greens, and adds birds and sky, while deleting a beach, when he transforms a sketch into a painting.
On a grand scale, Seurat first created Bathing Place at Asnieres, and an 1883 study is exhibited. We can see how Seurat eliminated horses, and shows a leisure beach scene, with a sculpted body of a boy against Impressionist water and sky. The Island of La Grande Jatte in the Seine River is one-mile long. It was popular for fishing, boating, picnicking, and walking. Parisians were formally dressed in bustles, hats, long skirts, gloves, and parasols. Pets included monkeys and dogs. Children brought jump ropes and flowers. In Seurat’s La Grande Jatte (1884), people are shown alone, with babies, with companions, with whole families, with pets, with a cornet, with walking sticks, with pipes, with cigars, with fishing rods, with parasols, and with picnics and flowers.
This exhibition includes numerous studies in preparation for the final masterpiece, such as figures standing and seated, Woman in Rose-Colored Skirt (1884), landscape of the island, individual couples, tree trunks, seated children, a woman fishing, a soldier, a nurse, a monkey, etc. The final work, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884, also the subject of a biographical Broadway musical, Sunday in the Park with George (which I saw in its original production), is mesmerizing and multi-layered, with intense interest in color, Pointillist technique, subject, contrasts, differences from early sketches, mood, order, harmony, surrealism, and magnitude.
The exhibition shows the viewer, in video and text, how Seurat changed or expanded his earlier studies and even his original canvas through a painted border and an expansion of a bustled skirt, following the addition or elimination of planned figures and props. The only painted figure that peers at the viewer is one young girl. All other figures and pets seem to be gazing at the Seine, or the sky, or each other, or lost in thought. Pets graze and play, a too-formally dressed woman fishes, and one couple pampers a blanketed baby. Various kinds of boats cruise the river, water reflections ripple, and a lone cloud floats against a bluish sky.
The painting allows one to enhance the senses, through aromas (pipe, cigar, flowers), sounds (children playing, pets scampering, a steamboat rushing by), touch (thick grass, pipe and parasol), taste (pipe, cigar, remarkably no obvious picnic, with a sanitized, neat and clean ambiance), and of course vision (again, a remarkable and well-ordered ensemble of characters, enjoying A Sunday on La Grange Jatte – 1884. This painting needs to be revisited often, and it can only be seen at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Some final works, by Signac (a protégé of Seurat), Gas Tanks at Clichy (1886), with a fusion of Impressionism and Pointillism in this work reminiscent of Utrillo, and Camille Pisarro, Gathering Apples (1885-86), with its warm, earthy tones and contrasting shades, are contrasted with a depiction of Seurat’s original La Grande Jatte, with a hypothetical recreation of the colors and shadings.
For information and tickets for this non-traveling exhibition, Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte, on view through September 19, 2004, visit www.artic.edu or call 312.930.4040. Art lovers should not miss this major event.
Art Institute of Chicago Lion
Photo courtesy of Roberta Zlokower
Art Institute of Chicago Seurat Décor
Photo courtesy of Roberta Zlokower
Claude Monet, French, Springtime on La Grande Jatte, 1878, Oil on canvas; 50 x 61 cm, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, N.G.M. 01290 (cat. 93/W 459/1721_13)
Camille Pissarro, French, Gathering Apples, 1885-86, Oil on canvas; 125 x 126.3 cm, Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan, 1008 (cat. 104/V 695/1721_14)
Camille Pissarro, French, Landscape at Éragny, 1886, Oil on canvas; 33 x 41 cm, Private collection (cat.105/1721_15)
Pierre Auguste Renoir, French, Oarsmen at Chatou, 1879, Oil on canvas; 81.2 x 100.2 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., gift of Sam A. Lewisohn 1951.5.2 (cat. 108/D 307/1721_15)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Compositional study for Bathing Place, Asnières, 1883, Oil on panel; 15.8 x 25.1 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the Adele R. Levy Fund, Inc., 1962.578 (cat. 20/H 93 AIC/1721_01)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Le Bec du Hoc, 1885, reworked 1888/89, Oil on canvas, 64.8 x 81.6 cm, Tate, London, purchased 1952, N 06067 (cat. 84/H 159/1721_07)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Seated and Standing Women (study for La Grande Jatte), 1884, Oil on canvas, 64.8 x 81.6 cm, Tate, London, purchased 1952, N 06067 (cat. 84/H 159/1721_07), Oil on panel; 15.5 x 24.7 cm, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, gift of A. Conger Goodyear, 1948, 1948:7 (cat. 44/H 125/1721_4)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Sketch with Many Figures (study for La Grande Jatte), 1884, Oil on panel; 15.5 x 24.3 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Mary and Leigh Block, 1981.15 (cat. 48/H 128 AIC/1721_03)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Stone Breaker and Wheelbarrow, Le Raincy, c. 1882, Oil on panel; 15.4 x 24.9 cm, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1727 (cat. 6/H 100/1721_02)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Compositional study for La Grande Jatte, 1884, painted border 1888/89, Oil on canvas; 70.5 x 104.1 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951, 51.112.6 (cat. 64/H 142/1721_06)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884, 1884-86, painted border 1888/89, Oil on canvas; 207.5 x 308.1 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224 (cat. 80/H 162 AIC/1721_8)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884 (Detail: The Couple), 1884-86, Oil on canvas; 207.5 x 308.1 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224 (cat. 80/H 162 AIC/1721_09)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884 (Detail: Woman and Child), 1884-86, Oil on canvas; 207.5 x 308.1 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224 (cat. 80/H 162 AIC/1721_10)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Tree Trunks (study for La Grande Jatte), 1884, Conté crayon on paper; 47.4 x 61.5 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Regenstein Collection, 1987.184 (cat. 46/H 620 AIC/1721_11)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Woman with a Monkey (study for La Grande Jatte), 1884, Oil on panel; 24.8 x 15.9 cm, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts, purchased 1934:2-1 (cat. 95/H 137/1721_5)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Seated Woman with a Parasol (study for La Grande Jatte), 1884/85, Conté crayon on paper; 47.7 x 31.5 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, bequest of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1999.7 (cat. 71/H 629 AIC/1721_12)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Rose-Colored Skirt (study for La Grande Jatte), 1884, Oil on panel; 15.2 x 24.1 cm, Private collection (cat. 51/G21506.jpg)
Georges-Pierre Seurat, French, Soldier ["Cadet from Saint-Cyr"] (study for La Grande Jatte), 1884, Oil on panel; 15.2 x 23.7 cm, Private collection (cat. 53/G21507.jpg)
Paul Signac, French, Hillside from Downstream, Les Andelys, 1886, Oil on canvas; 60 x 92 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, through prior gift of William Wood Prince, 1993.208 (cat. 118/FC 125 AIC/1721_17)