Was Pablo Picasso a friend to Albert Einstein? Not at all. They lived during the same century, but they lived in different worlds. Einstein was making ground-breaking discoveries for science. Meanwhile, Picasso was revolutionizing the art scene. Is it possible to use science to achieve an artistic masterpiece? Georges Seurat did just that.
Georges Seurat was a French post-impressionist painter during the 19th century. He is the father of the painting technique known as Pointillism and the founder of the Neo-impressionist movement. Georges Seurat’s paintings were received with much praise, and his art career was successful despite being short-lived due to his death at age 31.
Georges Seurat’s paintings married the ideas of science and art. He pushed the limits of what a painter could do and how they could achieve a complete picture. He merged his creativity with his passion for logical abstraction and mathematical precision. Here are five paintings that represent the great mind of Georges Seurat.
Bathers at Asnières
Seurat had the obvious artistic talent that allowed him to create beautiful paintings. But, at first, you may not notice the tiny dots that make up the complete picture. Pointillism is one of the styles of Georges Seurat artworks in which many small strokes of color are used to form an image.
This painting makes use of Pointillism. The combination of complex brushstrokes and meticulous application of contemporary color theory gives the artwork a lively look. Artists who created their works using dots of color—called Pointillists—were ridiculed by art critics. If only they knew what it would achieve!
The picture is of a suburban, calm Parisian riverside with people relaxing along the banks or swimming in the river. In the background, we see boats and buildings with smoke coming out.
Despite the rough texture, you can see minor details like the reflection on the water and the smoke emitted from the building. This painting still maintains accuracy and realism even though the colors are not blended.
La Mer á Grandcamp
The 19th century was an important era for artists; the same can be said for science. A particular chemist named Michel Eugène Chevreul caught the attention of Seurat. Chevreul experimented with color and the impact that connected colors have on visual perception.
This painting is one of the first attempts of Seurat’s Neo-impressionist movement. It is slightly more abstract than the previous one we considered. The boats are vague, and the ocean lacks a sense of realism. However, this artwork is a perfect example of using unblended colors to create a surface of different tones.
Seurat would apply colors separately instead of blending them, allowing the eye to blend the colors. This phenomenon is known as chromoluminarism – today known as Divisionism.
This rough, initial experiment gave birth to a revolutionary style of art that is still widely used today. Seurat explored these new techniques and completed this painting while visiting a small fisherman village.
Art relies on inspiration, and nature never fails to inspire. Georges Seurat could especially attest to this. Seurat spent the summer of 1886 at a resort town called Honfleur. He said he went to “wash the studio’s light” from his eyes, and we can not blame him.
This painting depicts the setting sun at Honfleur. It is a calm and serene setting achieved through light, soft colors, and gentle brushstrokes. Although it is much more accurate than La Mer á Grandcamp, the same principle of unblended color is demonstrated. The smaller dots create a soft variation of color and tone.
Seurat meticulously used at least 25 colors in thousands of individual dots. Sky and sea fill most of the composition, emphasizing the vast landscape. The texture of the ocean gives it a shimmering appearance as the sunlight falls on the water.
We have seen Seurat show off his unique painting style through landscapes, but what about using Pointillism to express emotion?
Later in Seurat’s art career, he painted Le Chahut (The Can-can), which became a hot topic for Symbolist critics. Impressionists tend to focus on the harmony of colors based on similar hues. However, the Neo-Impressionist idea of harmony had been based on contrasting shades, resulting in the optical mixture in the eye.
Seurat was brave enough to exhibit art that did not follow old painting styles, but he was also courageous enough to paint a subject like The Can-can dancers. Unfortunately, these dancers were considered sexually explicit and provocative.
Seurat focuses on an upward rhythm of lines in the painting, which gives the illusion of a high-spirited dance to upbeat music. This painting demonstrates the theory that lines express a different emotion. The general vertical direction of the dots depicts an energetic scene within the artwork.
Woman with a Monkey
Before painting his famous masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Seurat completed many drawings and paintings of the woman holding an umbrella alongside a pet monkey. These paintings and drawings served as a study for his final piece.
This artwork was painted before Seurat developed his pointillism and chromoluminarism concepts professionally. However, you can see he was already experimenting with using separate colors to achieve an image.
In the picture, various shades of yellow, green, and brown are positioned alongside each other to depict the grass, trees, and leaves. The direction of each brushstroke is different, giving the painting a rough and distorted texture. The woman and monkey are vaguely seen. However, due to harsh lines, her face appears to be blurred.
The Bottom Line
For the short time that Georges Seurat had a career as an artist, his contribution to art was unprecedented. George Seurat’s artworks are among the greatest of all time. Not only did he inspire future artists to merge science and painting, but he also laid the foundation for it. We can only imagine what else he would have accomplished if he had not fallen ill at such a young age.