seurat sunday afternoon in the park
In 1923, Frederic Bartlett was appointed trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago. He and his second wife, Helen Birch Bartlett, loaned their collection of French Post-Impressionist and Modernist art to the museum. It was Mrs. Bartlett who had an interest in French and avant-garde artists and influenced her husband’s collecting tastes. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was purchased on the advice of the Art Institute of Chicago’s curatorial staff in 1924. 
The painting was the inspiration for a commemorative poster printed for the 1993 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, with racing cars and the Detroit skyline added.
Paul Signac, “The Pine Tree at Saint-Tropez,” 1909 (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.
Gala became Dalí’s muse, portrait model, and business manager. He even signed his paintings with both of their names, explaining in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí that “It is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures.” (Emphasis in the original.)
The Surrealist movement was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, whose work was just beginning to be translated into French for the first time when the movement emerged in Paris in 1924. Dalí began reading Freud as a young man at art school in Madrid, and the psychoanalyst’s ideas about dreams and the subconscious had a profound impact on his work. “The book presented itself to me as one of the capital discoveries of my life,” he wrote about reading Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.
It is only after close inspection that the viewer sees some curious things happening. The lady on the right side has a monkey on a leash. The lady on the left that’s fishing is a metaphor for prostitution, something this part of Paris was well-known for back in the day. In the painting’s center stands a little girl dressed in white, the only figure that is not in a shadow. She stares directly at the viewer as if she’s silently questioning the audience.
Editors’ Tip: Seurat and the Making of ‘La Grande Jatte’
NOTE: Seurat’s 19th century colour palette comprised the usual colour pigments of the time, including vermilion, cobalt blue and emerald green. He also used the then-new pigment zinc yellow (zinc chromate), mainly for yellow highlights in the sunlit grass, but additionally in combination with blue and orange hues. Unfortunately, the zinc yellow has gradually darkened to a brownish colour, a process detectable even in Seurat’s lifetime.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1924, for the reputed sum of $24,000.