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A SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF LA GRANDE JATTE
AND ITS CAST OF CHARACTERS, PART II
In this second blog on the characters of A SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF LA GRANDE JATTE, the dress rehearsal is almost over. During 1884, Seurat created the majority of his some 60 studies (see: Monday, November 10), culminating in a oil canvas presently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, probably done near either the end of the year or the beginning of 1885. It was a compositional sketch, in which Seurat had essentially decided on his ultimate cast directing them to their places on stage.
(Note: I’ll be referring to Seurat’s masterpiece as A Sunday Afternoon to avoid confusion with other similarly titled works.)
But when did Seurat actually execute A Sunday Afternoon which rises almost 7 feet and extends 10 feet horizontally now at The Art Institute of Chicago? Probably he worked on it during most of 1885 and into early 1886 before its premiere showing at the 1886 Impressionist exhibition. Art historians and scholars are still trying to piece together his creative process.
Whatever the theories and speculations, Seurat has crystallized his vision of a summer day in which all the elements will never change: the people, dogs, boats, even the trees. How many stories can be told about these 48 Parisians, products of both the artist’s imagination and reality? The elderly grandmother and her nurse under the tree on our left, the trombonist directly behind them, and farther back two soldiers walking toward us. And as you scan the crowd, don’t forget the fisherwoman, the little girl in orange running, a man with a jockey hat and pipe reclining, and a black dog intently sniffing the ground.
My eye, though, is inevitably drawn to the mother and child in the center, a symbol of familial togetherness. Yet, in the earlier 1884 oil study Rose–Colored Skirt below, the future mom is a bit more carefree. She has an admirer too who doesn’t seem very discreet, openly trying to catch her attention. Is she ignoring his overtures? While nearby young parents hover over their newborn baby, nestled in the father’s arms.
When did Seurat decide to change her marital status? Unfortunately, the exact order of Seurat’s preliminary oil panels and drawings is unknown. In Seated Figures and Child in White, her prospective daughter initially appears, alone, and still an orphan (unless she has strayed from the shadowy female to our left).
However, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art version, they have already bonded into a vertical unit of predominantly white and orange colors.
Next, Seurat had to perfect the outfit of the angelic girl, particularly the distinctive wide-brimmed hat and straight dress, both magically emerging from the dark background of the conte crayon drawing.
Until she and her French mere now assume their roles as key performers in Seurat’s pointilist saga, the thick, impressionistic brushstrokes replaced by a grid of minute dots. The pair frozen in their positions, just about to take the next step across the sun bathed grass, in the direction of a potential new friend.
For isn’t the woman with the parasol making eye contact with the child in white, who may be to be reciprocating? Do you agree?
How many hours did Seurat dwell on that simple turning of her head? Elongating her body, particularly her torso and neck in the conte crayon drawing. An ethereal figure, staring into infinity.
Was Seurat then satisfied with the painted interpretation? His goal perhaps to tantilize posterity with her unseen face, causing us to always wonder.
FRIDAY: THE WOMAN WITH THE MONKEY
A STAR IS BORN
Please see Monday’s blog (November 10) for the major resources for Inside A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
The above images are used solely for educational purposes.