A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884.jpg
Artist Georges-Pierre Seurat
Year 1884–1886
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 207.6 cm × 308 cm (81.7 in × 121.25 in)
Location Art Institute of Chicago[1]

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – 1884 (French: Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte – 1884) is one of Georges Seurat's most famous works, and is an example of pointillism.


Georges Seurat spent over two years painting A Sunday Afternoon, focusing meticulously on the landscape of the park. He reworked the original as well as completed numerous preliminary drawings and oil sketches. He sat in the park, creating numerous sketches of the various figures in order to perfect their form. He concentrated on the issues of colour, light, and form. The painting is approximately 2 by 3 meters (7 by 10 feet) in size.

Motivated by study in optical and color theory, Seurat contrasted miniature dots or small brushstrokes of colors that when unified optically in the human eye were perceived as a single shade or hue. He believed that this form of painting, called divisionism at the time but now known as pointillism, would make the colors more brilliant and powerful than standard brush strokes. The use of dots of almost uniform size came in the second year of his work on the painting, 1885–86. To make the experience of the painting even more vivid, he surrounded it with a frame of painted dots, which in turn he enclosed with a pure white, wooden frame, which is how the painting is exhibited today at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In creating the picture, Seurat employed the then-new pigment zinc yellow (zinc chromate), most visibly for yellow highlights on the lawn in the painting, but also in mixtures with orange and blue pigments. In the century and more since the painting's completion, the zinc yellow has darkened to brown — a colour degeneration that was already showing in the painting in Seurat's lifetime.[2]

Prak interestingly explains the way Seurat came to such a style of painting. It could be the result of collision of two ways of art perception. The first is the result of his academic studying and the second is his appreciation of Impressionists: “iconographical content of his painting can be explained by an uneasy marriage between these two factors”. [3]

The island of la Grande Jatte is located at the very gates of Paris, lying in the Seine between Neuilly and Levallois-Perret, a short distance from where currently stands La Défense business district. Although for many years it was an industrial site, it is today the site of a public garden and a housing development. When Seurat began the painting in 1884, the island was a bucolic retreat far from the urban center.

La Grande Jatte Island, squeezed in between Asnieres and Neuilly, was one of those perfect locations for Parisians to spend their weekends in. A lot of critics stated that the place was completely vulgar and merely could be regarded as natural. Thus, it was a suitable place for Seurat to depict the whole class, but ornamented with particular details, which made it hard to distinguish this very class. As a whole, people on the picture are similar, but each possesses salient feature. Jules Cjristophe tries to express such an artist’s purpose: “Seurat … tries to seize attitudes of age, sex, and social class: elegant men and elegant ladies, soldiers, nannies, bourgeois, workers. It is a brave effort”. [4]

The painting was first exhibited in 1886, dominating the second Salon of the Société des Artistes Indépendants, of which Seurat had been a founder in 1884.


The left bank of working class Bathers at Asnières mirrors the right bank of the bourgeoisie on La Grande Jatte.

Seurat's painting was a mirror of Bathers at Asnières, completed shortly before in 1884. While the bathers are doused in light, almost every figure on La Grande Jatte appears to be cast in shadow, either under trees or an umbrella, or from another person. Some of the characters are doing curious things. The lady on the right hand side has a monkey on a leash. A lady on the left near the river bank is fishing. The area was known at the time as being a place to procure prostitutes among the bourgeousie, a likely allusion of the otherwise odd "fishing" rod. In the painting's center stands a little girl dressed in white (who is not in a shadow), who stares directly at the viewer of the painting. This may be interpreted as someone who is silently questioning the audience, "what will become of these people, and their class?" Seurat paints their prospects bleakly, cloaked as they are in shadow and suspicion of sin. The border of the painting is, unusually, in inverted color, as if the world around them is also slowly inverting from the way of life they have known. Seen in this context, the boy who bathes on the other side of the river bank at Asnières appears to be calling out to them, as if to say "we are the future, come and join us".[5]

Acquisition by the Art Institute of Chicago[edit]

On display at the Art Institute of Chicago

In 1923, Frederick Bartlett was appointed trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago. He and second wife, Helen Birch Bartlett, loaned their collection of French Post-Impressionist and Modernist art to the museum. It was Mrs. Bartlett who had an interest in French and avant-garde artists and influenced her husband's collecting tastes. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was purchased on the advice of the Art Institute of Chicago's curatorial staff in 1924.[6]

In conceptual artist Don Celender's 1974–5 book Observation and Scholarship Examination for Art Historians, Museum Directors, Artists, Dealers and Collectors, it is claimed that the Institute paid $24,000.00 for the work[7][8] (over $328,000 in 2013 Dollars[9]).

In 1958 the painting was loaned out for the only time – to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. On April 15, 1958, a fire there, which killed one person on the second floor of the museum, forced the evacuation of the painting which was on a floor above the fire in the Whitney Museum which adjoined MOMA at the time.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

The January 1974 Playboy magazine featured Nancy Cameron, its Playmate of the Month, on its cover superimposed on the painting in similar style.[11][12]

The painting was the basis for the 1984 Broadway musical Sunday In The Park With George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Subsequently the painting is sometimes referred to by the misnomer "Sunday in the Park".

The painting is prominently featured in the 1986 comedy film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in a scene in which the character Cameron stares at it intensely.

At the Old Deaf School Park in Columbus, Ohio, sculptor James T. Mason recreated the painting in topiary form;[13] the installation was completed in 1989.

The painting was the inspiration for the commemorative poster printed for the 1993 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, with racing cars and the Detroit skyline added.

The painting was featured, among others, in a scene from Looney Tunes: Back in Action. It also featured in an episode of Family Guy, when Stewie visits an art museum; both times a parody of the famous Ferris Bueller sequence.

In 2011, the cast of the U.S. version of The Office recreated the painting for a poster to promote the show's seventh season finale.[14]

Related works by Seurat[edit]


External video
Post-Impressionism, Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884, Smarthistory[15]
  1. ^ Roch, Christine L. "From "Rube Town" to Modern Metropolis:". Retrieved 04/08/2011. 
  2. ^ Gage, John (1993). Color and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction. Boston: Little, Brown. pp. 220, 224. .
  3. ^ Prak Niel Luning. (Sep., 1971). Seurat’s Surface Pattern and Subject Matter, p. 375. The Art Bulletin, Vol.53(3)
  4. ^ Clark, T.J. (1984). The Painting of Modern Life. Paris in the art of Monet and his Followers, p. 263. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press.
  5. ^ BBC, The Private Life of a Masterpiece (2005) Series 4, Georges Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Celender, Don (1974–75). Observation and Scholarship Examination for Art Historians, Museum Directors, Artists, Dealers, and Collectors. Publication was produced for an exhibition held at the O.K. Harris Gallery, 383 West Broadway, New York, from December 7 to December 28, 1974. pp. Question: Page 5, Answer: Page 23. 
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ CPI Inflation Calculator
  10. ^ http://greg.org/archive/2010/09/02/moma_on_fire.html
  11. ^ http://lucasspivey.blogspot.com/2010/03/stagerism-alert-seurat.html
  12. ^ Closed accesshttp://faculty.txwes.edu/csmeller/human-prospect/ProData09/01ModCulMatrix/ModPICs/07PostImpressionism/Seurat1859/Seurat1886Jatte444.htm (password-protected)
  13. ^ http://www.topiarygarden.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9&Itemid=22
  14. ^ "First Look: NBC's amazing new 'The Office' poster". Entertainment Weekly. 
  15. ^ "Post-Impressionism, Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved January 4, 2013. 

External links[edit]