View Full Version : Truth about "A Sunday Afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte"?

2011-Feb-20, 06:59 AM
In one of the lectures on the DVDs "From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism" by Professor Richard Brettell, Dr. Brettell says that after Seurat had painted a substantial part of the "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", he showed it to Pissarro. Pissarro gave two criticisms 1) The figures were too rigid and 2) The colors weren't bright enough. PIssarro recommended that Seraut use some newly developed paints that were just becoming available. Seurat didn't care that the figures were rigid since he was interested in Egyptian art and that style of figure was rigid. Seurat did want to use the new paints. He avoided completely repainting the picture by applying the colors as small dots on top of what he had already painted.

I haven't been able to find this story repeated in any online sources. Is it correct? From the way that Brettell tells the story, it suggests that this was the origin of the dots in Seurats pointillism. Prior to this story, another painting by Seurat is discussed and it appears to be painted with many small brush strokes, not with dots.

Dr. Brettell says the new paints were not permanent and the colors began to fade within two years. The Wikipedia article on the painting attributes the problem to one pigment "Seurat employed the then-new pigment zinc yellow (zinc chromate), most visibly for yellow highlights on the lawn in the painting, but also in mixtures with orange and blue pigments. In the century and more since the painting's completion, the zinc yellow has darkened to brown—a colour degeneration that was already showing in the painting in Seurat's lifetime." This doesn't make it clear whether it was the paint manufacturer or Seurat or both that mixed this pigment into various colors.

2011-Feb-20, 11:15 AM
I just looked at the wikipedia article for the painting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sunday_Afternoon_on_the_Island_of_La_Grande_Jatt e). It mentions that it was painted over a period of two years, 1884-1886. One of the studies at the bottom of the wiki page, Esquisse d'ensemble, 1884–1885, seems to be early in the process--notice the yellow dots all over the bottom portion of the canvas. Perhaps that is the point where Bretell's narrative enters the picture, but if so, the final product was less of an "accident" than he makes it seem.

2011-Feb-20, 06:29 PM
My understanding is that practically everyone who sees the painting for the first time has the same reaction--"I didn't realize it was that big!" This is the opposite of the Mona Lisa Reaction. However, my reaction at seven was that grown-ups will stand in front of you at art exhibits. I didn't get a proper look at the thing (I'm really only mostly sure it was part of the exhibition I saw), because you have to stand back.