Georges SEURAT | Study for 'A Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte' [Etude pour 'Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte']

Georges SEURAT
France 1859 – 1891

Study for 'A Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte'
[Etude pour 'Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte']
oil on wood panel
panel 15.5 (h) x 25.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Gift of Thérèse and Georges-Henri Rivière in memory of their parents 1948
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

These two studies are part of a group of about sixty preparatory works Georges Seurat made for his large painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. As these small studies indicate, the final painting shows the various social classes of Paris enjoying their Sunday afternoon in the sunshine on the banks of the river Seine.

The first study includes a section of the river with two figures resting in the shade of a tree; one reclines while the other sits gazing towards the water. The figures are sculptural shapes, devoid of detail. On the sunny embankment, a curving tree trunk casts long, thin shadows. Other figures fish at the water’s edge or wade in the shallows.

The surface of the river is invigorated by Seurat’s use of small, expressive brushstrokes. These brushstrokes also appear across the painting, sometimes as cross-hatching, especially in the green grass in the foreground and along the reclining figure’s clothing.

The river bursts with luminous colour combined with soothing reflections of cream, pink and gold. The coolness of the water is created by a combination of blue and lavender hues. Dark tones of green describe the shadows, and lime green and ochre the areas of sunlight.

In the later study more figures are included amongst the trees and no water is visible. A pram sits near two women; one wears an elaborate sunhat. They look towards two young children who seem to be watching something in the distance. The sunny greens and yellows in the painting create warmth which contrasts with the patches of blue-green shade where the figures rest.

Seurat strived for harmony in his use of colour. He believed in the power of colour to convey emotion and felt that a balance of warm and cool colours created a calm atmosphere.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay