Let’s continue our journey to discover the augmented reality masterpieces of Artinside Museum. After exploring Vermeer’s masterpiece, ‘The Milkmaid,’ in the room dedicated to work activities, and immersing ourselves in Toulouse-Lautrec’s masterpiece, ‘At the Moulin Rouge‘, today we will continue our incursion into the first pavilion. However, we will enter a new room, one dedicated to leisure and pastimes.
Before we enter the room and begin our journey to explore this study by the French artist Seurat, I’d like to share a brief methodology with you to maximize the value of these articles dedicated to the in-depth exploration of a painting, integrating them with the engaging experience offered by the Artinside Museum app.
My personal recommendation is to open the ‘Artinside Museum’ app and independently explore its pavilions and rooms. Afterwards, I suggest you read the article I’ve prepared, so you can imagine where to focus your attention when observing the augmented reality artwork later.
Once you’ve finished reading the article and have a clear understanding of all the details of the artwork, I invite you to open the Artinside Museum application again. Head to the room that houses the masterpiece and begin examining it from various perspectives, keeping in mind what you’ve read.
In the future, I will be more specific in guiding you at the beginning of each article regarding the pavilion, room, and specific location of the artwork to help you navigate within Artinside Museum more effectively.
That said, let’s now begin our journey.
We enter the first pavilion, dedicated to everyday life, choose the fourth room, and locate the artwork in the so-called fifth position (starting from the menu with the five panels, it is the fifth artwork you will encounter when moving clockwise, and the first if you proceed counterclockwise).
If you’re unsure how to access Artinside Museum, I suggest reading the article at this link.
Here we are in front of what is considered one of the studies for the monumental canvas, housed at The Art Institute of Chicago, measuring over two meters in height and just over three meters in width. To create this large canvas, Seurat, who was barely in his twenties, had prepared 30 oil sketches, 28 preparatory drawings, and three canvases.
This study, which you can admire in augmented reality, measures about 70 cm in height and just over one meter in width.
This is one of the three canvases used by the French painter to create his monumental masterpiece, exhibited at the eighth Impressionist exhibition in 1886.
Despite the seemingly minor differences in detail compared to the monumental canvas, this representation constitutes a distinctive phase in Seurat’s artistic activity and the development of his painting technique known as pointillism.
You might be wondering who Seurat is. Is he an Impressionist? What do we know about him? In this article, before examining the details of the artwork, I want to give you a more complete picture of the painter. This will help you fully understand what you have in front of you: the creative process behind this masterpiece and, above all, the person behind the author’s identity.
Born in 1859 to an wealthy family, Georges Seurat entered the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1878, but left it a few years later because he discovered that he was not interested in historical painting and rejected a traditional path. During those same years, he was deeply struck by visiting the fourth Impressionist exhibition; it was even described as an ‘unexpected and profound shock.’
Like the Impressionists, Seurat loved to paint outdoors, often by the banks of watercourses. However, unlike the Impressionists who sought to capture the momentary light, Seurat had a more scientific and meticulous approach. He preferred to carefully study all the details and then transfer them to the canvas using his innovative technique known as ‘Pointillism,’ which we will discuss shortly.
From a personal perspective, Seurat inherited his father’s reserved and distant attitude. His father was a retired civil servant who only visited the family once a week. This behavior contributed to shaping Seurat’s personality, and he developed a deep desire for isolation. Like his father, Georges Seurat led a double life. Even though he no longer lived with his mother, every evening he would take the train to have dinner with her, maintaining the appearance of a respectable bourgeois gentleman.
Surprisingly, the day before he died, he revealed a secret: that he had lived with a young working woman (without marrying her) and even had a child with her. None of his closest friends were aware of this part of his life. This episode reveals the silent and almost impenetrable man behind the artist.
His painter friend Paul Signac described him as a hypercritical and jealous personality, constantly worried that someone might challenge the merit of his artistic innovations.
Georges Seurat died at the age of 31, but his artistic legacy is immense. Fascinated by the optical perception of colors and the emergence of new scientific theories, he developed a new painting technique called ‘Pointillism,’ which significantly influenced other artists, including the renowned Vincent van Gogh.
From a young age, Seurat was fascinated by the world of colors and immersed himself in the theories of Michel Eugène Chevreul, including the Theory of the Color Wheel, which illustrated the concepts of complementary colors. One of the French chemist’s major contributions was the formulation of the law of complementary colors, which states that colors opposite each other on the color wheel complement each other.
This law asserts that colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel are complementary colors. In other words, they are colors that strongly contrast with each other and, when combined, create a strong sense of visual contrast. He noticed that two complementary colors (such as red and green, blue and orange, or yellow and purple), when placed next to each other, appeared more vibrant and luminous. The perception of a color was thus influenced by the surrounding colors.
Based on these theories, Georges Seurat developed a new painting technique, namely pointillism, to represent light and color more accurately. Instead of directly mixing pigments on the palette, Seurat placed a series of small colored dots on the canvas, each composed of complementary primary colors, positioned close to each other. This method allowed him to recreate chromatic tones and subtle variations of light uniquely.
In our specific case, Georges Seurat preferred to use small strokes of color, both vertical and horizontal, instead of dots, always combining primary pigments with their complements.
The Island of La Grande Jatte was considered a popular leisure destination in Seurat’s time and was located in the northwestern outskirts of Paris, near the suburbs of Asnières and Courbevoie.
When he was still a child, Georges Seurat was taken for walks on La Grande Jatte by his mother and aunt, who played significant roles in his life.
For Parisians, the island was easily accessible from Asnières, where a ferry crossed to La Grande Jatte. And the residents of Paris could reach Asnières thanks to the new railway line.
For months, Seurat went to the island every day, making studies and sketches to later complete his work in the studio.
In this study, Seurat portrays a glimpse of the island, with well-kept grass, where neither bottles nor residences are visible, although around 1880, they already occupied two-thirds of the island.
His depiction of La Grande Jatte has been compared to a modern ‘Arcadia,’ an idyllic place, an idealized image of natural beauty.
Let’s start by examining the border of the painting, where Georges Seurat painted an edge around the canvas. This area of the painting is interesting because the color points used in the border are composed of complementary colors. In preparing this study, Seurat used a canvas with a red background onto which he applied layers of vibrant colors using very small strokes, unlike the characteristic dots of the final canvas. This represents a variation in his color application technique.
It’s interesting to note that even in the monumental canvas, Seurat retained the painted border, as we can observe in this study.
Now let’s examine the color strokes present in the artwork. We can admire the bright green of the grass, kissed by the sun and dotted with strokes of yellow and orange. If we shift our gaze to the shaded areas, we will notice the combination of blue and pink colors.”
At first glance, we can admire perfect compositional harmony: the vertical lines of the trees and figures and the use of rhythm in the repetition of umbrellas and postures balance perfectly with the horizontal lines of seated people, canoes, and the shadows cast both by the figures and the trees.
In this study, our attention is drawn to a child at the center of the canvas. Approach to examine it closely, but then step back to view the entire work.
The child, along with an elegantly dressed woman, is advancing towards us and is portrayed frontally.
All the other figures in the painting are depicted in profile, though they lack faces and are reduced to elements of color, clothing, hats, and corsets. The women wear very tight corsets that emphasize their shapes, and, following the fashion of the time, they wear a padded reinforcement known as “cul-de-Paris” beneath their wide skirts to enhance the back of their dresses. Their attire is completed with a head covering, an indispensable element for respectable women of that era.
Now, focus your attention on the lower right of the painting, where you will notice the presence of an unusual animal next to the dog, namely, a monkey.
Monkeys were fashionable domestic animals at the time the artwork was created. The French word for a female monkey was often used in slang to refer to a prostitute. Therefore, the elegantly dressed woman holding the monkey could be interpreted as a prostitute with her client. However, it’s important to note that there is no clear evidence of this interpretation in Seurat’s letters or documentation.
The monkey could be seen as a symbol of lust, but there is no conclusive evidence to confirm this interpretation.
If you look further along the waterway, you will observe some rowboats with rowers and boats with white sails.
If we shift our gaze to the left end of the painting, we also notice a woman with a fishing rod. But what could she be trying to catch? Some have interpreted this figure as an allusion to obscene gestures, although the painter’s intention remains open to various interpretations.
Behind the child dressed in white, we can see a vaguely outlined figure holding a musical instrument, perhaps a trumpet. However, beyond the sound produced by the trumpet, there seems to be profound silence all around, contributing to preserving the atmosphere of estrangement and isolation among the individuals that the artist sought to recreate.
If we consider the child dressed in white as a symbol of innocence and brightness, we can introduce a positive element into the work. However, often the final painting is interpreted as the portrayal of a group of people devoid of personality, alienated and lost amidst the fashions and vices of their time.
In other words, the work is seen as a parody of the rise of the petite bourgeoisie, who, for the first time in history, could afford the luxury of leisure time but ended up spending Sundays without socializing and convivially interacting with others, isolating themselves in a small outdoor space on the island of La Grande Jatte.
Now that we’ve explored some details of the artwork together, all that’s left is for you to download the Artinside Museum app and admire the artwork in augmented reality in front of your eyes. Take a photo of your augmented reality experience and share it using the hashtag #artebinaria”.