Famous Artwork: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Editorial credit: Boris15 / Shutterstock.com. A Rwandan stamp comemorating A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, circa 1980.
Editorial credit: Boris15 / Shutterstock.com. A Rwandan stamp comemorating A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, circa 1980.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is a painting attributed to 19th-century French painter, George Seurat. The oil-on-canvas painting is known as one of the Seurat's best works and showed the painter’s use of color and dots to create optical effects and perception. George Seurat worked on the painting between 1884 and 1886 and first exhibited it in 1886 at the Societe des Artistes Independents.


The painting is oil-based and is painted on a large canvas measuring 81.7 inches by 121.25 inches. The painting is set on la Grande Jatte, a public park along the banks of River Seine in Paris. The subject of the painting are groups of people from different social classes most of whom are depicted relaxed on the park with others are engaging in leisure activities such as swimming, fishing, and dancing. The painting also depicts several animals on the park including dogs and one monkey on the foreground. The weather seems to be warm with minimal cloud cover.


Scholars see the painting of "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” as a contrast to Seurat’s earlier project titled "Bathers at Asnieres” with the latter being doused in more light. The painting is believed to depict the social hypocrisy of the city as the park was used for prostitution at the time. The lady depicted with a fishing rod alludes to this particular theme. Scholars also believe that the painter intended to show the care-free spirit in Paris residents through showing different classes intermingling freely.


The painting is currently displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Institute gained custody of the painting in 1924. In 1923, the Art Institute of Chicago appointed Frederic Bartlett as a trustee. Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett were art collectors with Mrs. Bartlett having a liking for French Modernist and Post-Impressionist art and donated their family art collection. It was during their tenure that the painting was purchased by the Institute for a rumored $24,000. The Institute briefly loaned out the painting in 1958 to New York-based Museum of Modern Art. During its time at the Museum of Modern Art, the painting was nearly burnt in April 1958 after a floor in the museum was engulfed in flames which resulted in the death of one person.

George Seurat

George Seurat (born George Pierre Seurat) was a French painter renowned for establishing pointillism and chromoluminarism painting styles. George Seurat was born on December 2nd, 1859 in Paris to a wealthy family. George began his studies at a local art school, Ecole Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin, and later at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. George began working on his first major art project in 1883 which was titled “Bathers at Asnieres.” George Seurat died on March 31st, 1891 at the age of 31 from what was believed to be meningitis, diphtheria, and pneumonia. The painter and his numerous works gained global popularity after his painting became one of the inspirations behind the Pro-Cubist movement of the early 20th century.


The painting was one of George Seurat’s best works where the artist portrayed how color could be used to show emotion as well as create harmony. The Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was the inspiration of Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s critically acclaimed 1984 musical entitled “Sunday in the Park with George.” The painting has also featured in numerous films and comedy TV series including The Simpsons, Family Guy, Looney Tunes and the 1986-hit comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. During the 1993 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, the event’s commemorative poster was based on Seurat’s painting with a few alterations including the addition of the Detroit skyline.


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