georges seurat a sunday afternoon on the island of la grande jatte
Seurat himself told a sympathetic critic, Gustave Kahn, that his model was the Panathenaic procession in the Parthenon frieze. But Seurat didn’t want to paint ancient Athenians. He wanted ‘to make the moderns file past . in their essential form.’ By ‘moderns’ he meant nothing very complicated. He wanted ordinary people as his subject, and ordinary life. He was a bit of a democract—a “Communard,” as one of his friends remarked, referring to the left-wing revolutionaries of 1871; and he was fascinated by the way things distinct and different encountered each other: the city and the country, the farm and the factory, the bourgeois and the proletarian meeting at their edges in a sort of harmony of opposites. 
The painting is prominently featured in the 1986 comedy film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Such use is parodied, among others, in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Family Guy, and Muppet Babies.
Georges Seurat, Study for “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” 1884 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte depicts a typical outing for Parisians living in the 1880s. Facing the shimmering river and relying on umbrellas and trees for shade, they appear to enjoy a brief escape from city life, whether they’re lounging on the grass, fishing in the river, or even admiring the ambiance in the company of a pet monkey.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Exhibition of Modern French Paintings from the Birch-Bartlett Collection, April–September, 1925, checklist no. 9.
Paris, Grandes Serres de la Ville de Paris (serre “B” de la Champs de la Reine, Aval-Alma), 21me Exposition de la Société des Artistes Indépendants. Éxposition Rétrospective Georges Seurat (1859-1891), 1905, cat. 18.
At first glance, the viewer sees many different people relaxing in a park by the river and nothing appears out of the ordinary. On the right, a fashionable couple is on a stroll. On the left, another well-dressed woman extends her fishing pole over the water. There is a small man with a black hat looking at the river, a white dog with a brown head, a man playing a horn, two soldiers standing at attention, a couple admiring their infant child, etc.
Nowadays, A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte can be viewed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Aside from offering us an opportunity to see first-hand one of the most important modern artworks that paved the way for avant-garde thought, this painting is also a symbol of how an ambitious young man, unsatisfied with current artistic standards and norms, set off to prove his own views on art regardless of the protests of his colleagues. As a painter, Georges Seurat wanted to make a difference and with La Grand Jatte, he succeeded. A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte is now regarded as an iconic part of our culture and is viewed as one of the most pivotal works of art ever put onto a canvas.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Where the technique of pointillism shows its unique aspect is where the light from the left comes into contact with people and objects in the piece. The blend of such colors is pointillism’s primary concern and as its founder Seurat’s work epitomizes the technique.