Seurat, Georges-Pierre (1859–1891) By Somers, Lynn M.
Born in Paris in 1859 to a bourgeois family, painter and draughtsman Georges-Pierre Seurat enjoyed a brief but mature career as the leading French Neo-Impressionist. His invention of Divisionism (or “chromo-luminarism”), a painting technique grounded in science and the study of optics, challenged the spontaneity and fluidity of Impressionism, which by the 1880s had been largely subsumed by a capitalist gallery system. In 1886, at the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition, Seurat debuted his monumental Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande-Jatte (1884–1886), a “patient tapestry” of line and color that led the art critic and activist Félix Fénéon to coin the term néo-impressionisme. Equally shaped by the Renaissance frescoes of Piero della Francesca and the Baudelairean praise of the ephemerality of modern life, La Grande-Jatte symbolically closed a chapter in French painting. Seurat’s systematic aesthetic produced an indelible impact on fin de siècle artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse, and later Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, and André Breton’s Surrealism, firmly establishing him as integral to the 20th-century avant-garde. Seurat’s oeuvre includes approximately 500 drawings and 6 major figure paintings, an astonishing output for a career that lasted only 11 years.