“Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.” - Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat (2 December 1859, Paris, France; to 29 March 1891, Paris, France from diphtheria), one of the members of ‘Salon des Refusés’ who learned from classical training and from contemporary art and was rejected by the official Salon, became the founder of Pointilism (Divisionism) in art. He was born Georges-Pierre Seurat, the youngest of three children in the family of a wealthy lawyer, Chrysostome-Antoine Seurat. His mother, named Ernestine Faivre, came from a prosperous Parisian family.
During the early 1870s young Seurat was taking private drawing lessons from his uncle, painter Paul Haumonte, who took him on regular art expeditions. From 1875 he studied drawing under the sculptor Justin Lequien. From 1878-1879 Seurat studied art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His teacher Henri Lehmann was a disciple of the great neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who was the student of Jacques-Louis David. That training was formative for his meticulous working procedure, which Seurat developed in his mature works. Having served at Brest Military Academy for one year, he returned to Paris and continued his art studies.
During the year of 1883 Seurat was working on his first large painting ‘La baignade a Asnieres’ (Bathers at Asnieres 1883), which was rejected by the official Salon. However, the painting was exhibited by the Societé des Artistes Indépendants, which was organised as a second ‘Salon des Refusés’ (Salon of the Refused). At their initial show in 1884, Seurat’s ‘Bathers at Asnieres’ was exhibited along with the works by Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Signac. That was the beginning of Seurat’s friendship with Signac, who connected him to the avant-garde group 'Les Vingt' in Brussels.
Seurat exhibited seven of his works in Brussels in 1887. His collaboration with Signac led to foundation and development of Neo-Impressionism, the artistic movement also known as Pointillism or Divisionism. Seurat himself preferred the term Divisionism. Seurat was a man of modest means and modest lifestyle. He was abstinent from alcohol, or any other drugs and stayed totally devoted to his art. He was known as a quiet and at times depressed, but robust and generous person. He was always helping his friends and arranging their exhibitions and hanging the paintings.
Seurat lived in his art-studio with his young model Madeleine Knobloch, whom he met in 1889. She came from a working class family and was not fully accepted by Seurat’s established friends. In February of 1890, she gave birth to their son Pierre-George. Seurat was secretive about his private life, a trait he inherited from his father. He became traumatised at the news of the death of Vincent van Gogh in 1890.
Seurat introduced his young family to his parents just days before he was “choked to death” by a throat infection, diagnosed as diphtheria, which also killed his little son two weeks later, and killed his father after another month. Seurat died on March 29, 1891, and was laid to rest in the Cimitière du Pere-Lachaise in Paris, France. Georges Seurat produced most of his works during the 1880's, which are regarded as one of the most salient periods of aesthetic change. He exhibited his last ambitious work, ‘Le Cirque’ (The Circus 1891), while it was still unfinished. It was Seurat’s visual retelling of the story of ‘Frères Zemgano’, a novel by Edmont De Goncourt.
During his short life Seurat made only seven large paintings, working for a year or more on each one. At the same time he made about five hundred smaller paintings and drawings. Seurat produced a strong stimulating effect on his fellow artists. Neo-Impressionists were later joined by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Rousseau, and other artists who developed the idea of Pointillism (or Divisionism) in other artistic movements, such as Fauvism.
Dividing colours in order to produce special effects was attempted by many artists. Seurat was the first one to meticulously fill every centimetre of his paintings with swirling swarms of small colourful dots which represented the desired color, when a painting was looked at from a distance. His work quality ascended to such an artistic height, that it attracted masses of followers and made a lasting impact on generations of artists, designers, architects, photographers, cinematographers, and even on today’s cutting-edge digital software developers.
Seurat’s influence on fashion design was evident in some successful fashion collections from such acclaimed couturiers as Oleg Cassini, whose use of colour patterns alluded to those of Seurat’s, as well, as Vyacheslav Zaytsev and Pierre Cardin among many others. Seurat’s visual language, his innovative and thoughtful interplay of colours, has the ability to trick our mind into a special way of looking at the world, and gives us an impression of the wonderful ways in which art can imitate nature.
The “Circus Sideshow” (La Parade du Cirque) of 1887–88 (Oil on canvas; 99.7 x 149.9 cm) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is one of six major figure paintings that Seurat produced during his short career. More compact than his other mural-size compositions, and more mysterious in its allure, Seurat’s first nocturnal painting debuted at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. On a balustraded stage, under the misty glow of nine twinkling gaslights, a ringmaster (at right) and musicians (at left) play to a crowd of potential ticket buyers, whose assorted hats add a wry and rhythmic note to the foreground.
Seurat made on-site sketches in the spring of 1887, when Fernand Corvi’s travelling circus was set up in a working-class district of Paris, near the place de la Nation; he then developed the composition through several preparatory studies. “Circus Sideshow” represents the first important painting Seurat devoted to a scene of popular entertainment. In effect, it sets the stage for his last great figure compositions, “La Chahut” of 1889–90 (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo) and “Circus” of 1890–91 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris).