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1859 - 1891 French Pointillist

Copyright 11/1996 LSkinner, Revised 11/2007 CRBrady. Property of Mesa County Valley School District #51, Grand Junction, CO. This article was written for the express use of the Art Heritage Program. No part may be copied in part or in whole without permission. Certain materials are included under the fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law and have been prepared according to the multimedia fair use guidelines and are restricted from further use. The information contained within this artist unit is a compilation of information gleaned from several sources, some unknown. If credit has not been properly given, please contact our office so this can be corrected. (970) 254-5489

Standards Information

The Seurat unit meets the following Mesa County Valley School District #51 Content Standards for elementary visual art: Visual Arts Standards for Grades K-5

1: Students recognize and use the visual arts as a form of communication 2. Students know and apply elements of art, principals of design, and sensory and expressive features of visual arts. 3. Students know and apply visual arts materials, tools, techniques, and processes. 4. Students relate the visual arts to various historical* and cultural* traditions various cultures (e.g. portraits). 5. Students analyze and evaluate the characteristics, merits, and meanings of works of art.


Georges Seurat (suh RAH) was born in Paris and studied art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts when he was eighteen years old. He studied there for two years and then spent some time in the military. He invented a special style of painting called Pointillism. He painted pictures using tiny dots of paint color instead of regular brush strokes and solid areas of color. He made different shades of color by painting dots of pure color close to each other. In this way, he created green by mixing blue and yellow dots. Browns and golds were made with tiny dots of red, blue and orange.


One of Seurat's most well known pointillism paintings is his masterpiece, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (1884-1886). The huge painting is 7 feet tall and nearly 10 feet across. If you have ever visited the Art Institute of Chicago, you may have seen his masterpiece on a huge wall with many of his other paintings. Seurat enjoyed spending his winters in Paris, drawing and finishing one large painting each year. In his life, he painted seven wall-sized paintings and 60 smaller paintings and drawings.

VOCABULARY Impressionists - 1860's - 19th C. a major movement and new way of creating art in the late 1800's; painters used natural, free brushwork and painted sunlight into their colors; often showed an impression of reality rather than a perfect life-like report of the subject; some of the most famous impressionists were Monet, Cassatt, Degas, Renoir, Manet and Morisot. Pointillist - late 19th C., also called Neo-Impressionism; a style of painting developed in France in which pure colors of paint and applied to paper or canvas in small dots; a painting style using dots of color when viewed from a distance, the dots seem to merge and create new colors; the most famous Pointillist is Seurat; a style also used by van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Primary colors - primary colors are the basic colors from which all other colors can be made; the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow; mixed in varying ways, these make other colors like green, orange, purple and so on. Conte crayon: a graphite and clay pencil invented by Nicolas Conte, a Frenchman, in 1795.

Bibliography 1. Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters. MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga. Bright Ring Publishing, 1996. Online research: o o Politics: Seurat



Art Institute of Chicago ­ Art Explorer: Making of the Grande Jatte: Explore a website that explains about the technology behind photo resolution and color depth. Students can manipulate an image to make it become clearer. Information about Seurat is included:



SETTING THE SCENE Seurat lived in a time of great upheaval in Europe. The Republic was formed in France in 1848 when the king was overthrown. France was an exciting place to live. The economy was prosperous; new ideas of communism, socialism, democracy and capitalism were exciting. France was a gathering place for intellectuals and newcomers who brought new ideas and passions. On the down side, Paris was almost devastated in 1870 and 1871 by the Franco-Prussian war. German troops besieged the city, cutting off food supplies. It is believed 36,000 people starved to death. Neither Seurat nor the other major Impressionists painted this negative side of French life. Europe was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution during Seurat's lifetime. Leonard Schlain, in his book, Art and Physics, points out along with the rise of Impressionism and the exploration of the properties of color by the artists came many scientific advances brought about by examining color. Spectrum analysis allowed scientists to pass a light through heated gas and find that each element in the periodic table has its own distinct color. The discovery of the structure of the atom was based on the colors of the atoms under a microscope. The composition of stars, the fusion of magnetism, quantum mechanics and theories about the size of the universe were all based on observation of color. All these advances happened in a 60 year period starting in 1859. Impressionism was aided by technological advances that allowed paint to be put into an easily transported metal tube. Prior to that innovation, paint was carried in pig bladders. Chemistry was used to make pigments even purer in color.


Seurat insisted on putting dots of pure color next to each other and letting the viewer's eye mix the color rather than doing that on a palette. His mosaic-style method came to be known as "pointillism." Although he mixed with them socially, Seurat differed from the Impressionists. He painted everyday scenes of common people as they did, but he chose to paint in his studio rather than in "plein aire" or out of doors. His method of painting was very laborious. Prior to Impressionism, art work usually had historical or religious themes. Portraits were often idealized, not depicting all the lines and wrinkles of a realistic face. The Impressionists and those who followed them felt the subject of art did not have to be deep; it was all right to produce "art for art's sake." Pictures did not have a story element but could record changes. Art work was meant to provoke sensual experiences rather than intellectual or emotional ones.

For 200 years, the art scene was controlled by the "Salon". The French Academy of Art (or Salon) was established in 1667 and dictated the style and subjects of French painting for 200 years. Academy members chose the paintings exhibited to the public in the Salon area of the Louvre. That was the only way an artist could receive public exposure and find buyers for his art. In 1863, the arch-conservative jurors rejected 3,000 of 5,000 paintings submitted. The jurors called the rejected works, "a serious danger to society." The outcry against the Academy's action came to the attention of Napoleon. He ordered another public exhibition, this of the work that had been refused by the Academy. The exhibit by "the Refusals," most of who were Impressionists, became an annual event and broke the power of the Salon. Impressionistic music followed the same trends as the painted works. Pieces took on shorter, more lyrical forms. Titles like "sketches, images, preludes, nocturne and etudes" indicate the change. Like the paintings, sounds were not mixed on the pallet before they were applied, but combined in a mosaic structure where the ear heard the impression of the music. Side Two of your music tape contains sketches by Erik Satie, Seurat's contemporary. Satie, like Seurat, created many variations on a common theme. The pieces are similar enough to be hypnotic like Seurat's dots, but becomes richer the more one examines what they are seeing and hearing. Side One of the tape is the score for the musical written by Stephen Sondheim called Sunday In The Park With George. The musical takes the scene from Seurat's masterpiece, "Sunday on the Island of the Grand Jatte" (pronounced gran shjot) and creates a play about the characters in the scene. Seurat is the main character. The second act explores the lives of the descendants of the people in the park, one of whom becomes a modern artist. They are engaged in opening an art show using a light machine called a "chromolume." The songs from the play are filled with puns and references to pointillism.


BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION Seurat's father, Antoine, was a bailiff by trade and seldom at home. He was a very stuffy man who wanted to be called "sir minister" by his family as well as those he served. He eventually moved out of the home, but would come to dinner every Tuesday. The family was financially comfortable in spite of Mr. Seurat's eccentricities. Seurat's mother was always at home and raised Georges and his two siblings by herself. Seurat was the youngest child and his mother ensured he had proper schooling. Throughout his life, Seurat received an allowance of 400 francs a month from his family, At age 16, Seurat began studying at the Municipal School of Design under the sculptor, Justin Lequien. He had a mediocre talent for sculpting. At 19 he moved to a different art school, Ecole des Beaux Arts under Henri Lehmann. There, Seurat discovered his talent for drawing from life. While completing a year's mandatory military service, Seurat turned from painting and drawing in the traditional style to his own freer style by sketching the military life around him. He became a master of rich velvety compositions in Conte crayon. Seurat completed more than 80 small paintings before he began his major canvases. Most of these smaller works were landscapes done in the Impressionistic style. Seurat was mentored by Degas, and exhibited his work with the Impressionists until 1886. When "Sunday Afternoon of the Island of the Grand Jatte" was exhibited in the annual Impressionist's show, Renoir and Sisley and others protested and withdrew. Degas demanded the word "Impressionist" be removed from the poster. They felt Seurat's work was "too mechanical" and "too scientific." Seurat broke from the Impressionists after this exhibit, creating a splinter group called the "Independents." This was the nucleus of the Neo-Impressionist or Post-Impressionist movement. The artists grouped in this category are formidable...Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Munch, and Rousseau. Seurat read all he could about color theory, and by1886, he had developed his own theory. The cornerstone was "Pointillism," a word used to describe the dense system of tiny dots of pure color, not mixed, organized in the plane of the canvas with respect for geometric principals. Seurat, like Klee and Kandinsky after him, assigned certain emotions to different colors and shapes. He believed the use of these principals in his creation would create a predictable response from the viewer. These ideas seem to run parallel with the science of psychology, which was developing during this time. These ideas were expanded into a whole discipline of behavioral psychology and social engineering based on colors and reactions to them. Seurat died suddenly at the age of 31 on March 29, 1891, of infectious angina. The infection may have been caused by strep or diphtheria. He died three days after his final large canvas, "Le Cirque." (The Circus) was displayed in an unfinished state at an Independent's exhibit.


Seurat drove himself mercilessly during the last years of his life. He secluded himself in his studio. In one year, he completed 30 panels, 3 huge canvases and 26 drawings. He would usually only venture out to dine with his mother every night, at her home. Degas nicknamed Seurat, "The Notary." Seurat was very formal and somber, when he went out in public; he always wore a top hat and a dark suit with precisely pressed trousers. It was a surprise to most of his friends and especially to his mother to learn after his death that Seurat had a steady liaison with Madeline Knobloch. She is the subject of his portrait, "The Young Woman of Poudrant." Seurat and Madeline had a relationship for years and had a child together. Tragically, two weeks after Georges' death, his 13 month old son died of the same illness. Soon after, Madeleine had a miscarriage, moved to Brussels and subsequently disappeared. George Seurat has been called by critics the "Wizard of Color". He was much more accepted by his contemporaries and the public than Vincent Van Gogh. Seurat said he sought to impose control, objectivity, and rationality using scientific methodology to expressionism. He denied there was poetry in his art saying, "I simply applied my method." Henri Matisse pointed out in later writings, "the average person can read optical treatises from now until eternity, and he will never paint the Grande Jatte." Seurat's precise paintings in "pellets" of color established his right to claim a unique place in art history.


1. Portrait of Seurat: By Maximillian Luce. Georges Seurat (suh RAH) was born in Paris and was the youngest son in a family with three boys. His father was very strict and insisted his family call him "Sir Minister". Seurat's mother made sure he received an education and when he was an adult, she supported him with an allowance so he could paint. Seurat was a very private man who would stay in his studio and work for long hours on his precisely dotted paintings. When he did go out, he dressed neatly in a suit and top hat.

2. The Bridge and The Quays, Port-en Bessin: 1888: This painting illustrates a seacoast town. Seurat studied Impressionism and felt he could improve on the methods artists of that time were using. He spent his lifetime studying color and color theory. He devised a method of painting which used dots of paint instead of using longer brush strokes to create the picture. If you look at his paintings up closely all you see are dots, but when you move away from the


painting, your eyes form the dots into a picture. In some of his later works he began to incorporate a few lines and strokes into his paintings.

3. Study for Une Baignade, Asnieres (The Bathers): 1883: Seurat painted small samples or parts of a painting before creating the final piece. These samples are called "studies". This study shows the strong preference Seurat had for using a single main figure to dominate a painting. He uses lots of light and dark contrasts, simple patterns, and short brush strokes. The scene gives some hint of the changes the Industrial Age was making in French life. Do you see the factory spewing smoke in the background? Although the river was polluted, it didn't seem to stop people from using it as a playground in their leisure time. Most of Seurat's paintings of people did not have facial details.


A Bathing Place at Asnieres: 1883-84:

79" X 118" or 6'7" X almost 10': Oil on canvas:

This was Seurat's first major work and attracted immediate attention from the public. Notice how much softer the colors are in the final canvas. The technique of the very fine pointillism is evident in this and many of his other final works.

5. The Seine at Courbevoie: 1885: This is another scene along the Seine River at a town just above Asnieres (where the painting of the bathers was done). It shows brilliant use of color and contrast with more short slashes of color rather than dots of color.

6. The Couple, Study for LaGrande Jatte: 1884: This is another study for a painting Seurat did. See if you can locate this couple in the final picture.


7. Man Next To a Tree: Study for LaGrande Jatte:


This study was done in Conte crayon. A conte crayon is made of graphite such as the lead in a pencil but also has clay mixed into it. Artists often sketched in conte because paint was so expensive. Will you find this tree and this man in the large painting?

8. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte: 1884-86:

82" X 121" or 7'10" X 10'1": Oil on

canvas: La Grande Jatte has been the subject of a play and a musical that was originally a PBS special called "Sunday In The Park With George."

This is the largest and probably the most famous of Seurat's paintings. It is 10 feet by 7 feet, about the size of a wall in a home and marks Seurat's arrival at his method of precise painting in "pellets of color". It created a sensation at its first exhibition in May 1886, but was made fun of and ridiculed by the Impressionists. They thought the figures were too mechanical and doll-like. La Grande Jatte is a long narrow island in the Seine River just outside Paris. The working class and the nobility went there on Sundays to promenade (walk around) and have fun. Can you find the couple from the earlier studies?...the man by the tree?...a girl that is only two blobs of white?...the monkey with the lady? The painting is valued at several million dollars and is in the Art Institute of Chicago.

9. Study for La Chahut: 1889-90: The Paris nightclubs were a favorite gathering place for many of the male Impressionists. In this painting, Seurat displays movement and life using geometric images in the triangular dancing figures and diagonal lines. Contrast the dot patterns in this study with the final picture.


10. La Chahut:

1889-1890: 67" X 65" or 5'7" X 5'5": Oil on canvas:

In this painting, he used a swirling effect to produce an atmospheric haze in the background. Seurat added a fourth dancer, another flutist and shadows not in the study in the last slide.

11. The Eiffel Tower: 1889:

9 ½ in. x 6 in.: Oil on Panel:

The Eiffel Tower was in the process of being built when Seurat did this painting. It was considered the perfect example of scientific and architectural achievement for its time. Notice the color of the sky, what colors did he use?

12. Study for Le Cirque (The Circus): 1889-90: Seurat's use of movement and image is again illustrated in Le Cirque, his last painting. He left the study alone for several months before going on with the final canvas, which we will see next. Notice what he changes as well as the elongated perspective he gives the ring.

13. Le Cirque : 1890-91: 73" X 60" or 6'1" X 5': The Circus was never completed. Seurat hung the painting as part of an exhibit three days before his death. The painting captures the imagination with the prancing horses, the upside down clown and the graceful horseback rider. Seurat spent many hours at the Fernando Circus watching the acts and making sketches. Seurat died of a sudden illness when he was only 32 years old. Although he lived only a short time, he created a remarkable art style. He influenced many other artists of the time including Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse.



The supplies provided to schools include Crayola markers and paper. Dot-making is very labor-intensive so you might warn the students to not make their figures very big. You may want to review primary, complementary, and secondary colors. How does combining paint differ from the way nature combines color?

Students analyze and discuss Seurat's use of optical color mixing and use of color to create a mood. They identify how Seurat shows the illusion of distance using size and placement and discuss repeated patterns in nature, the environment, and Seurat's painting. They sketch symmetrical butterflies and paint still-life butterflies using Seurat's pointillist style.

OPTIONAL: using stencils from the "Make It Take It" room at BTK, provide stencils to students and encourage them to fill the area (don't draw around the edge, use dots to mark the edge.) Students use markers to provide the details on the image.

Optional art activities: Seurat-style Mural: Supplies: paint in primary colors (red, yellow, blue plus black); large paper for mural; overhead projector (for enlargement); foam centers from pink rollers used for curling hair. Enlarge one of Seurat's images onto large paper placed on wall by tracing the picture and dividing the paper into 12" grids. Students use the foam rollers to place dots of paint on the paper, working in teams of two.

Have the students make a color wheel using combinations of dots of primary color. Can they do it? What can different patterns of dots of the same color combinations make?

Students could try to replicate a simple still life...challenge them to depict an apple without using just red. Have the apple under a strong light so students can see how shading affects the color.


If you're into making confetti, have students arrange dots of different color into a design or picture and glue them down. Students could also tear dots of one or two colors and arrange them in a composition. Have students make a pointillist tree using no green for the leaves. Read Sky Tree and have students make combinations for all the seasons. Seurat believed certain colors and shapes would evoke certain emotions. Talk about colors that connote mad, happy, sad, joy, jealousy, etc. Have students draw some caricatures of faces with those emotions and change the coloring of each background of the clothing. What does that do to the image? Talk about the role lines can play in picturing emotions. Have students make primary, secondary and complementary color dot patterns. You could use stencils. Which are most striking? Most subdued? Which do they like the best? Which evokes the strongest emotion or reaction? What do we really see? Get the kids to think about how we perceive color and how we "know" something is a certain color. What can effect our perceptions and interpretations of color? (Disabilities, light, moods, language, peer influence, experience, etc.). Get colored pictures or cartoons from the newspaper or magazines and have students fold them in half and continue the dots to finish the picture. Most of the color photos in the newspaper are made from dots of four primary colors used in printing, plus black. Have students each make a pointillist figure and then arrange them in a group collage like the Grand Jatte or The Bathers. Have them write a story or play about the characters in the composition. Have students draw the arc of the circus ring and sketch in the crowd and the main act. Talk about how just suggestions of things can conjure up images in our minds (like crowds of people from a few half circles in the background. Restrict the students to using only primary colored markers and crayons. How many different colors can they create with dot combinations? Get another size round object like a dowel to make larger dots to combine with the smaller dots of the Q-tips. What optical effect does this technique have?



Treasure Hunters: Also see Dot to Dot Seurat Submitted by: S.Klein, an art educator from California; with notes from KinderArt ®

Subject: Art History Grade: all Age: all


Learning about the style of art known as pointillism and the artist (Georges Seurat) who created it.


pointillism, dots, divisionism, Georges Seurat, color mixing, pure color, melt, combine, arrange

What You Need:

watercolors q-tips® watercolor paper drafting tape

What You Do:

1. Begin by discussing Georges Seurat with students. Specifically, his use of dots to make paintings and his use of primary colors placed next to each other instead of mixing colors. 2. Tape the edges of the paper with drafting tape. 3. Sketch basic landscape with a pencil. 4. Wet the paint with a brush, dip the q-tip in water and dip it into the paint. 5. Pressing down lightly will make a small dot, more pressure will create a larger one. 6. Have the students try to fill up as much of the paper as possible with color. 7. Remove the tape when the painting is dry.

Artist Biography:

Georges Seurat was a painter who was interested in shape and pattern, but he approached these things in a very unusual way. He was the developer of a very scientific way of painting known as pointillism. He used tiny dots of pure color, side by side to build form in his paintings. These tiny dots of paint, when side by side, give the viewer's eye a chance to blend the color optically, rather than having the colors readily blended on the canvas. This was also known as divisionism.



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