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Connect the Dots with Seurat

MommyO guides you along mini-adventures in fine art and fun art!

Explore A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat.

'A Sunday on La Grande Jatte' (1885-86) — Georges-Pierre Seurat — Oil on Canvas

"The inability of some critics to connect the dots doesn't make pointillism pointless." ― Georges-Pierre Seurat

• • •

Georges-Pierre Seurat is the artist often credited with being the father of Neo-Impressionism, and the innovator of a highly unique painting technique called Pointillism. Using tiny dots — or points — of pure color, Pointillists, like Seurat, intentionally encourage the viewer’s eye to optically blend the points of color for a brighter and more brilliant visual art experience. You have undoubtedly heard of Pointillism before.

Although ‘Pointillism’ is the modern-day term widely accepted for this popular style of painting, Georges-Pierre Seurat favored referring to it as ‘chromoluminarism.’ According to him, the more technical term better described the intense focus on the actual science of color and light within his artwork.

In fact, the word ‘Pointillism’ was made up by art critics in the late 1880s in mockery of the works of Georges-Pierre Seurat and those who painted with the tiny dots of color. No doubt, this too is why Seurat rejected the term to describe his artwork.

In response to the name given his new style of painting by the art critics — and in defense of his new technique — Seurat once said, “The inability of some critics to connect the dots doesn’t make pointillism pointless.’ Way to go, Mr. Seurat — that sure was telling them!

To fully understand Pointillism, we must take a quick look back to the art movement immediately preceding it — that being Impressionism. A popular late-19th-century art movement, Impressionism gave the world great artists like Monet, Renoir, and Degas. Within their works of art, the Impressionists provided us a mere glimpse of their visual reality by painting a fleeting moment in time through the effects of light on color.

Following on their heels were the Neo-Impressionists or ‘new’ Impressionists — sometimes referred to as Post-Impressionists — who embraced the same complementary color and everyday-life themes as the Impressionist movement. However, they firmly rejected the idea that they were painting a fleeting moment in time. Neo-Impressionists chose to blend art with science by considering the scientific basis of color and the physiology of vision when they created their works of art. Generally speaking, they took a much more scientific and systematic new-world approach to their art when they painted light and color.

Pointillists also seemed to be mimicking the process of a significant 19th-century invention — the camera. A camera systematically breaks down images into arrangements of colored dots. Similarly, Pointillists systematically applied colored dots to create imagery upon their canvases.

Rather than mixing colors on a palette or directly on the canvas — as did the Impressionists before them — Pointillists applied dots of pure color onto the canvas. This painting technique was their attempt at coaxing the viewer’s eye to connect the dots and process the colors in the mind as a part of the visual experience.



By requiring the viewer to combine the colors optically, Pointillists believed they were scientifically achieving the maximum luminosity possible for the visual experience.

Georges-Pierres Seurat debuted Pointillism to the world around 1884. Although the art world widely criticized his style at the time, there was one particular art critic who did not mock Pointillism. His name was Félix Fénéon, and he revered the new form of art. He took a great interest in Seurat’s movement and ardently promoted the original group of artists who were working to connect the dots. Fénéon is even credited with dubbing the group ‘Neo-Impressionists’ in 1886.

We are going to have fun exploring a very famous oil painting by Pointillist Georges-Pierre Seurat. The work of art is named A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

You are most likely familiar with this famous painting. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte is probably one of the most iconic examples of Pointillism and one of the most reproduced paintings in the world! It has been featured in movies and tv shows, as well as in animated cartoons. It has been parodied by Sesame Street and can be seen in, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, when Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny jump into the painting to evade their arch-nemesis, Elmer Fudd!

Not only is this one of Seurat’s most famous pieces — but it is also his most substantial. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — sometimes referred to as A Sunday Afternoon — measures 81-3/4 X 121-1/4 inches, or approximately 7 feet by 10 feet. Its large size and the fact that literally millions of dots create the visual experience makes this painting all the more remarkable. What’s also pretty amazing is that this painting took Seurat, who was only 26 years of age at the time, nearly two years to complete.

At first glance, Georges-Pierre Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte seems a warm portrait of men, women, and children of all ages enjoying a sunny day in a lovely park. See if you can find and count all 48 people in Seurat’s work of art — don’t forget the people in the boats!

Upon second glance, however, the figures don’t seem to be having much fun. The rigidity of their stances make them seem stiff and emotionally detached from the events happening around them — almost frozen in their 19th-century moment in time. This icy quality certainly chills the warm day for the observer of the artwork.

Seurat has carefully designed this work of art to achieve what is known as artistic rhythm. He uses this principle of design so that the overall composition remains interesting for the viewer, and the eye does not rest in one place — rather, it keeps moving around the artwork.

One might consider the rhythm within the composition of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte to be quite logical. However, we can also spot a few places where Seurat’s general composition is a bit illogical. Let’s play a game of I Spy in the Art to find a few oddities within this famous piece of artwork!

I spy with my little eye — a teeny-tiny dog! Do you spy this small furry friend? The teeny-tiny dog is to the left of the couple in the foreground. You’ll also notice a monkey there and a larger dog! What makes the teeny-tiny dog illogical is that he looks out of proportion to the monkey, the larger dog, and even the woman’s dress. It seems Seurat wanted to give new meaning to the terms ‘miniature dog’ or ‘toy breed!’



I also spy with my little eye — sailboats, and steamships on the Seine River. Do you see all the boats? What’s illogical about the boats is that the wind seems to be blowing in two different directions. It is seen blowing in one direction for the sailboat and the steamship in the foreground — left-hand side — of the canvas. However, look at tiny the boats in the far background. The wind is seen blowing the steam and the sail in the opposite direction. There must have been some crazy crosswind that day!

And finally, I spy with my little eye — lots of shadows on the ground. All the shadows are different sizes. Oddly, their sizes seem to be nonsensical! A giant shadow — in comparison to the other shadows cast by the trees — appears in the foreground of the painting. We can only assume there must be one giant tree — not visible to us — that is providing shade for seven people, two dogs (albeit one is teeny-tiny), and a monkey. In contrast, notice the other trees cast shadows that only provide shade for one or two people.

I Spy in the Art is a really fun way to discover fine art — now let’s take an even closer look at this painting — literally! Enlarge the art on your screen or if you’re using the printable PDF — Blog ‘n’ Craft Blueprint — hold it very close to you. Look at the painting close up and then take a few steps away from the screen or hold the paper farther away. You should notice that when you’re close to the art, you can see all the many points or dots; however, when you step away from the painting, the dots and the colors seem to blend together.

It sure was super interesting getting to know a little bit about Neo-Impressionism with Georges-Pierre Seurat, the famous artist who always connected the dots for a very 'grande' visual experience.

For a fun, hands-on artsy craft — designed to help you connect the dots, just like Georges-Pierre Seurat — check out Pointillist Marker Art. It's any day art with everyday materials!

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colorful paper collage of MommyO, host of Art to Know with MommyO vlog, holding a paint palette and a dog