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Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte

also known as Un dimanche à la Grande Jatte

Artist: Georges Seurat
Created: 1884-86
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Art Institute of Chicago, USA

This was the most notorious painting of the Impressionist-initiated exhibition of 1886.  It was the eighth and last of such exhibitions, and Seurat exhibited relatively few works (nine in total) in the company of the likes of Cassatt, Gauguin, Degas, and Pissarro.  Yet, by the power of Un dimanche à la Grande Jatte alone, he managed to steal the show.

Word of  la Grande Jatte eventually spread to even the London press, and thus achieved notoriety abroad before it had even been seen outside of France.  It has gone on to become the most commonly reproduced painting for the purpose of evoking summer leisure.

Although la Grande Jatte is often cited as a pointillist work, it is not constructed of a screen of uniform dots.  The brush strokes in fact vary, from small dots to longer streaks, though they do appear uniform from a distance.  On close inspection, for example, the tree trunks are in fact made up of strokes significantly larger than mere dots.

It is interesting how Seurat picked the elements of la Grande Jatte.  Workers, save for what appears to be a nurse, are completely absent.  The sanguine man, reclining in the foreground, could be a laborer, but we are given no real clue as to his occupation.  Absent, too, is the clutter of everyday life.  No food, wine bottles, or picnic debris can be seen.  Notable, too, is that not a single person in the foreground is completely alone.  In la Grande Jatte, Seurat created a scene free from worry, interruption, and conflict.


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