how many preparatory paintings did seurat paint for sunday on la grande jatte
Georges Seurat, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” 1884-1886 (Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago Public Domain)
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.
Georges Seurat’s painting depicts the leisure time of city dwellers in late nineteenth-century France. Capturing weekend and vacation scenes in the countryside surrounding Paris was a popular theme for artists at the time. Claude Monet also painted La Grande Jatte, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicted rowers on the river Seine. Within the city, people were enjoying outdoor space too, in such urban parks and gardens as are shown in Edouard Manet’s Music in the Tuileries Gardens.
The late nineteenth-century French artist Georges Seurat is best known for his large-scale paintings achieved using a technique called pointillism. Seurat studied the theory of color, and optical perception, and applied his studies to his painting.
These arduous methods of preparation were in keeping with the general values espoused at the École. But one professor from that institution was to have a more particular and wide ranging impact on Seurat’s imagination, which bore directly discernable effects in the Bathers. Charles Blanc had been a professor and director at the École and had arranged for copies of Quattrocento fresco paintings from Arezzo to be displayed in the École chapel. The huge, stately and dignified figures in these frescos, and the regularity of their spacing has obvious echoes in the Bathers. Among these fresco painters was Piero della Francesca, whose Resurrection depicts a sleeping guard at the bottom-left sharing a number of features with the seated man in Bathers at Asnières. The curvature of slumping back and bent legs is clearly matched in both figures, and indeed the posture also appears in the Young Male Nude Seated beside the Sea of Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, a painting with which any student at the École would have been familiar. The sculpted contours of Piero’s soldier’s cape find an echo in the rugged contours of the trousers in Seurat’s painting, and the flick at the back of the guard’s hat becomes a rhythmic motif showing up with hats, hair and bootstraps alike in Bathers. 
Not only did Seurat decline to make absolutely clear the social status of the major figures in Bathers, but neither did he show them performing a public role of any kind. Their faces are for the most part shown in profile, and not one of them faces in the direction of the viewer. The anonymity and ambiguity with which these figures are painted was never again to feature so prominently in any major painting from Seurat.
“This picture is one single mosaic of boredom, a masterful rendering of the disappointed longing and the incongruities of a dolce far niente [idleness],” Bloch wrote. “The painting depicts a middle-class Sunday morning on an island in the Seine near Paris…despite the recreation going on there, seems to belong more to Hades than to a Sunday…The result is endless boredom, the little man’s hellish utopia of skirting the Sabbath and holding onto it too; his Sunday succeeds only as a bothersome must, not as a brief taste of the Promised Land.”
On April 15, 1958, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte —1884 was on loan at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when a fire broke out in the adjoining Whitney Museum. The fire damaged six canvases, injured 31 people, and killed one workman, but Seurat’s beloved work was whisked away to safety through an elevator evacuation plan.
Seurat’s Color Theory
When Seurat began painting in the early 1880s he looked to the earthy colors of Jean-François Millet and other Barbizon artists, whose rustic realism preceded the urban themes and bright colors of the Impressionists by several decades. Seurat produced his paintings from this period, such as Stone Breaker and Wheelbarrow, Le Raincy, on small panels that he carried with him in a slotted box. More sketches than finished works, they convey the immediacy and freshness of having been painted quickly on the spot.
Relationships between figures are implied, but the characters’ overt lack of interaction makes it difficult to identify or even imagine the plot. Some have argued that the social order Seurat so elegantly constructed is more tenuous than his rigid composition at first suggests. While the figures appear to fit seamlessly within the whole, their exact social stations and motivations remain open to speculation and debate.