Georges Seurat

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Georges Seurat 1888.jpg

Georges-Pierre Seurat - in sourced quotes of the artist. Georges Seurat (2 December 185929 March 1891) was a French Post-Impressionist painter and draftsman. He is noted for the color-technique of pointillism. His large-scale work A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886) broke with Impressionism and initiated Neo-impressionism.


  • On Pissarro's advice I'm abandoning the emerald green...
    • Seurat's note in 1885; as quoted in the exhibition-text 'Georges Seurat, 1859 – 1891' in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, ed. Robert Herbert, published: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York
    • (Camille Pissarro wrote his son Lucien c. 1885, to warn Seurat and Paul Signac, mixing the cadmium yellow with other pigments will got dark, later)
  • I have told him nothing [an art-journalist in Paris who wrote in 1887: 'Seurat sees his paternity of the theory w:Neo-Impressionism contested by misinformed critics and unscrupulous comrades'], but what I have always thought: the more of us (Neo-Impressionists] there are, the less originality we will have, and the day when everyone this technique, it will no longer have any value and people will look for something new as is already happening.. .It is my right to think this and to say it, since I paint in this way [Neo-Impressionistic], only to find a new approach which is my own.
    • quote in 1887; as quoted in Seurat in Perspective, ed. Norma Broude, Englewood Cliffs, n. J., Prentice-Hall, 1978, p. 105
  • They [the visitors in his studio, praising his work] see poetry in what I have done. No, I apply my method and that is all there is to it.
    • as quoted in Post-Impressionism, From Van Gogh to Gauguin, John Rewald, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1956, p. 86
  • I painted like that because I wanted to get through to something new - a kind of painting that was my own.
  • The art of painting is the Art of hollowing out a canvas.
    • Essay by Roger Fry 'The Dial', Camden, New Jersey, September 1926

'Letter to Félix Fénéon', June 1890[edit]

Quotes from a letter to w:Félix Fénéon, 20 June, 1890; as quoted in the exhibition-text 'Georges Seurat, 1859 – 1891' (APPENDIX F), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, ed. Robert Herbert, publishing Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York - (version C), in Bibliotheque Nationale, Departement des Manuscrits, Paris. reproduced photographically in H, I, p. xxi - reprinted in translation
  • Allow me to point out an inaccuracy in your biography of Signac, or rather, in order to set aside all doubt, allow me to specify.. [ w:Félix Fénéon wrote that 'the new 'optical painting' seduced [in 1885], — several young painters', but he named mainly Signac ].
  • The purity of the spectral element being the keystone of my.. ..searching for an optical formula on this basis ever, since I held a brush 1876- 1884.. ..having read w:Charles Blanc in school and therefore knowing Chevreul's laws and Eugene Delacroix's precepts, having read the studies by the same Charles Blanc on the same painter [Delacroix (in 'Gazette des Beaux-Arts', vol. xvi, if I remember correctly)
  • Knowing Corot's ideas on tone (copy of a private letter October 28, 1875).. and Couture's precepts on the subtlety of tints (at the time of his exhibition), having been struck by the intuition of Monet and Pissarro.. .Rood having been brought to my attention in an article by w:Philippe Gille, Figaro 1881, 3.
  • I insist on establishing the following dates indicating my prior paternity, [and the discussions that I held]
    1884, 'Grande Jatte' study, exhibition of the Independants
    1884-1885, 'Grande Jatte' composition
    1885, studies at the 'Grande Jatte' and at Grandcamp; I took up again the 'Grande Jatte' composition October 1886. 4 October [18]85 I make Pissarro's acquaintance at Durand-Rucl's.
    1886, January or February, a small canvas by Pissarro, divided and pure color, at Clozet's, the dealer on the Rue de Chateaudun.
  • Signac, definitively won over and who had just modified the paintings 'The Milliner', [1885] and 'Appreteuse et garnisseuse Modes' [exhibited in May 1886], Rue de Caire, p. 174J, following my technique at the same time as I was finishing the 'Jatte'.. ..You'll agree that there's a nuance here and that if I was unknown in [18]85 [ w:Félix Fénéon did not mention Seurat in his article as leader / initiator of w:Neo-Impressionism I nonetheless existed, I and my vision that you have described in an impersonal fashion so superbly, aside from one or two insignificant details.
version B of the 'Letter to Félix Fénéon', June 1890
In version B of his letter to Fénéon, Seurat provided more important information
  • Rood was in my possession the day after the appearance of w:Philippe Gille's book review, published by 'Le Figaro', 1881 (change of palette). I abandon earth colors from [18]82 to 1884. On Pissarro's advice I stop using emerald green (1885)
    (Rood etait en ma possession le lendemain du jour oil paru la revue biblio graphique de Philippe Gille, collection du Figaro 1881 [changement de palette]. J'abandonne les terres en 82 a 1884. Sur ie conseil de Pissarro je lache le verr emeraudc 1885)

'Letter to Maurice Beaubourg', August 1890[edit]

Quotes from a letter to w:Maurice Beaubourg, written 28 August 1890; as quoted in the exhibition-text 'Georges Seurat, 1859 – 1891' (APPENDIX K 381), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, ed. Robert Herbert, publishing Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York - (version D of this letter: in Private collection (cat. no. 231). first published by w:Félix Fénéon ('De Seurat,' 1914)
  • I knew van Gogh less intimately. I spoke to him for the first time in 1887 in a popular eatery near 'La Fourche', Avenue de Clichy, [Paris], (closed). A huge windowed room was decorated with his canvases. He exhibited at the 'Independants', [Paris] in 1888, 1889, 1890..
  • Signac told me of his death this way: 'He [= Vincent van Gogh] gave himself a bullet in the ribs; it passed through his body and lodged in his groin. He walked for two kilometers, losing all his blood, and went on to die in his inn'.
  • Here are the titles of my large canvases:
    'Bathing Place' (Asnieres) 2 meters / 3 meters, exh. Independants (group) May 15, 1884. New York
    studies for 'A Sunday on the Grande Jatte'. Independants (Society) December 1884
    'A Sunday on the Grande Jatte'. 1884, 3 meters / 2 meters.
    Independants August 1886..
    ..studies at 'the Grande Jatte' and at w:Honfleur at Grandchamp, Independants in 1887...
  • In conclusion I am going to give you the aesthetic and technical note that concludes Mr. Christophe's piece and which originated with me; I am modifying it a little, not having been well understood by the printer.
  • Aesthetic:
    Art is Harmony.
    Harmony is the analogy of opposites, the analogy of similarities of tone, of tint, of line taking account of a dominant and under the influence of the lighting, in combinations that are gay calm or sad
  • Opposites are:
    for tone, a more luminous/lighter one for a darker one.
    for tint, the complementaries, that is, a certain red opposed to its complementary, etc.
    Red — Green
    Orange — Blue
    Yellow — Violet
    for line, those making a right angle.
  • Gaiety of tone is the luminous dominant, of tint, the warm dominant, of line, lines above the horizontal
    Calmness of tone is the equality of dark and light; of tint, of warm and cool, and the horizontal for line.
    Sadness of tone is the dark dominant; of tint, the cool dominant, and of line, downward directions.
  • The means of expression is the optical mixture of tones, of tints (of local color and the illuminating color: sun, oil lamp, gas, etc.), that is, of the lights and of their reactions (shadows) following the laws of contrast, of gradation, of irradiation.
  • The frame [is no longer as in the beginning version] is in a harmony opposed to those of the tones, tints, and lines of the [motif of the] picture.

Quotes about Georges Seurat[edit]

  • [Seurat] wanted to make of painting a more logical art, more systematic, where less room would be left for accidental effect. Just as there are rules for techniques, he wanted them also for the conception, composition, and expression of subjects.
    • w:Félix Fénéon, (c. 1890); as quoted in Seurat in Perspective, ed. Norma Broude, Englewood Cliffs, n. J., Prentice-Hall, 1978, p. 31
  • Standing on his ladder, he patiently covered his canvas with those tiny multicolored strokes, which give it, from a distance, that intense life and luminosity which are the secrets of his style. At his task, Seurat always concentrated on a single section of the canvas, having previously determined each stroke and color to be applied. Thus he was able to paint steadily without having to step back from the canvas in order to judge the effect obtained.. .Nothing was left to change, to some happily inspired brush stroke.
    • w:John Rewald, in Post-Impressionism, From Van Gogh to Gauguin, John Rewald, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1956, p. 93
  • The Impressionists had discovered the advantages of optical mixture – allowing the eye to mix adjacent colors [directly on the canvas] rather than mixing them on the palette... Seurat would determine the placement of adjacent colors, placed on the canvas in the form of small dots, according to principles of the optical perception of color, developed by [Ogden] Rood in laboratory experiments.
    • w:William Innes Homer, in: Seurat and the Science of Painting, William Innes Homer, Cambridge M.I.T. Press, 1964, pp. 36-43
  • [Seurat had made] the great innovation of that day. This new technique w:Neo-Impressionism made a great impression on me. Painting had at last been reduced to a scientific formula; it was the secession from the empiricism of the preceding areas.
    • w:William Innes Homer, in: Seurat and the Science of Painting, William Innes Homer, Cambridge M.I.T. Press, 1964, pp. 99-101
  • Seurat's art is an astonishing achievement for so a young painter. At thirty-one - Seurat's age when he died in 1891- Degas and Cézanne had not shown their measure. But Seurat was a complete artist at twenty-five when he painted the 'Grande Jatte'.
    • w:Meyer Schapiro in Modern Art, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Meyer Schapiro, George Braziller, New York, 1968, p. 104
  • At the age of just twenty-five Seurat set out to produce a masterpiece w:A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, his famous and large [3 x 2 meter]] painting, Seurat made in 1885-86 – a painting more than sixty square feet in size – a definitive illustration of the systematic use of scientific color theory [Color-divisionism] in painting.
    • w:George Heard Hamilton, in Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880 - 1940, George Heard Hamilton, Harmondsworth, Penguin 1972, pp. 50-52
  • Not only did he [Seurat] never begin his paintings without knowing where he was going, but his concern went even beyond their success as individual works. They had no great meaning for him if they did not prove some rule, some truth of art, or some conquest of the unknown.
    • a friend of Seurat; as quoted in Seurat in Perspective, ed. Norma Broude, Englewood Cliffs, n. J., Prentice-Hall, 1978, p. 31
  • As a student Seurat had begun to read scientific treatises on the visual perception of color, and had become fascinated with the proposition he read in a textbook by w:Charles Blanc, an art critic, that 'color, which is controlled by fixed laws, can be taught like music'.. .Seurat studied research on color theory that had begun with the discovery by w:Michel Eugène Chevreul, a chemist at the tapestry workshops of 'Les Gobelins', that the perceived intensity of a color did not depend so much on the pigmentation of the material used as it did on the color of the neighboring fabric – a finding that had subsequently been developed by others, including an American physicist, w:Ogden Rood, who published a treatise on chromatics in 1979.
    • w:David Galenson, in Painting Outside the Lines, David Galenson, Harvard University Press, 2001, in 'Notes to Pages' 75-82'
  • Seurat read Delacroix's journals and made notes on his use of colour mixing in his paintings. Delacroix's puzzlement over why blobs of blue and yellow failed to produce green could have prepared Seurat to see in his French translation of Rood’s Modern Chromatics an answer to the problem. He mentions in his letter to Fénéon that w:Ogden Rood's book had been brought to his attention in 1881 (the year it was published in France).. .w:Ogden Rood's chief lesson was to make clear the distinction between coloured lights and coloured pigments.. .However, as [w:Herbert, Robert L.|Herbert points out, in 1881 and 1882 Seurat's oil paintings were still in the Barbizon tradition and it was not until 1883 that his palette lightened and not until he started 'Grande Jatte' in 1884 that he started to use separate blobs of complementary colour in a clear, conscious manner..
  • Seurat's letter to Fénéon was written on 20 June 1890, six years after he had started to use the pointillist technique and it seems that it was written to establish his primacy in all areas concerned with pointillism. It is perhaps hard to understand today but when Fénéon wrote the first serious review of the works of the Neo-Impressionists after the 8th Impressionists Exhibition of 1886 he mentions: 'Messieurs Georges Seurat, Camille and Lucien Pissarro, Dubois-Pillet, and Paul Signac divide the tone in a conscious and scientific manner'. By 1890 other artists had joined the bandwagon and I believe Seurat must have felt that he was in danger of being undervalued or overlooked as the true originator of the movement.

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