A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1886, Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte) is Georges Seurat's most famous work, and is an example of pointillism that is widely considered to be one of the most remarkable paintings of the 19th century, belonging to the Post-Impressionism period.
The island of la [Grande] Jatte is in the Seine in Paris between La Defense and the suburb of Neuilly, bisected by the Pont-de-Levallois. Although for many years it was an industrial site, it is today the site of a public garden and a housing development. In 1884, the island was a bucolic retreat far from the urban center.
Seurat spent two years painting it, focusing scrupulously on the landscape of the park. He reworked the original as well as completed numerous preliminary drawings and oil sketches. He would go and sit in the park and make numerous sketches of the various figures in order to perfect their form. He concentrated on the issues of color, light, and form. The painting is approximately 2 by 3 metres in size (approx. 6 feet 8 inches x 10 feet 10 inches).
Motivated by study in optical and color theory, he contrasted miniature dots of colors that, through optical unification, form a single hue in the viewer's eye. He believed that this form of painting, now known as pointillism, would make the colors more brilliant and powerful than standard brush strokes. 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 color degeneration that was already showing in the painting in Seurat's lifetime.