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The Barker Code
of Color/Fabric Representation

Museum Masterpieces

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Homage to “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, mixed media, 19x25.5, 2011

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is oil on canvas, 6’10”x10’1”, done between 1884 and 1886, which is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891) was born in Paris and lived there his whole life. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for 18 months then worked on his own and developed a style that became known as pointillism.

Briefly described: In the very center of the picture is a standing woman carrying an orange umbrella. She wears a pink skirt and holds onto a small child in a blue bonnet and white dress. These two figures appear briefly in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. On the right is a lady with a large black umbrella, hat and bodice over her long purple skirt, which has a large bustle in back. She stands in front of a gentleman in a gray suit, who is carrying a cane and a cigarette. A small monkey on a leash is by her side. A little to the left of the monkey is a small dog running on the grass. On the left side is a group of three: a man lying down, propping himself up with his bare arm. Behind him is a man in a black suit, black hat, and black cane, and to the right of him is a lady in brown who is sitting and doing a little handwork. To the right of the lady is a large black dog that is sniffing at her fan. The picture has 38 people, 5 boats, 2 dogs and one monkey. Take time to explore; ask questions.

More about the painting: Pointillism is the technique of painting in a “dot” style, putting little tiny spots of colored pigments on the canvas very close together and letting the human eye mix them. It took two years for Seurat to complete the work; he started by going to La Grande Jatte on Sunday afternoons and making sketches of the various people he saw there. Then he composed the painting using his drawings, and set about carefully making the dots that bring it to life. The dots in the painting make the sunlight shimmer and everything looks quiet and calm. The painting inspired a 1984 musical by Steven Sondheim called “Sunday in the Park with George” that is still performed on occasion.

More about the artist: Seurat was working at a time when impressionism was at its peak, but he wanted to take it further. He had studied the law of contrast and knew that by putting a spot of green next to a spot of yellow, it would create a more vivid and luminous effect than by mixing the colors on his pallet. Instead of painting quickly to catch an impression, he worked to create an impression of quiet timelessness. Seurat died very early at the age of 31 of diphtheria.

SallyB’s comments: This picture has beads between the top color layer and the interior batting, to gives the fingers a sense of what the eyes see when they look at the dots of the original picture. It was a long and complicated process.