a sunday afternoon on the island of la grande jatte by george seurat
Over the course of art history, certain pieces have come to symbolize entire artistic genres. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David, for example, define the Italian Renaissance; The Scream by Edvard Munch epitomizes Expressionism; and Pointillism is typified by Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon the the Island of La Grande Jatte.
After completing the painting in 1886, Seurat opted to exhibit it in the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition. While it was met with mixed reviews, it remained the artist’s most well-known work of art until (and after) his untimely death in 1891.
The painting and the life of its artist were 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”.
Some of the characters are doing curious things. The lady on the right 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 bourgeoisie, 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. 
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925.
Paris, Galeries Bernheim-Jeune et Cie, Georges Seurat (1859-1891), December 14, 1908–January 9, 1909, cat. 58.
When he painted this work, Georges Seurat was a mere 25-year-old who had only seven more years to live. He was an ambitious young man with a scientific theory to prove, something totally unique for the elite of the modern art world. Seurat’s theory was an optical one – he had the conviction that painting in dots was able to produce a brighter color than painting in strokes.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, detail, via Wikimedia Commons
Where exactly Seurat painted Grande Jatte is a subject of much discussion since its completion. The picturesque content of the piece has also been brought into the question because it is painted at a spot on the island which doesn’t incorporate any of the increasingly apparent industry that had begun appearing on the island.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte