Studies of Georges Seurat have usually focused on the subject matter; but there can be little doubt that the painter himself nailed his flag firmly to the mast of technical innovation. Technique was, as he wrote to his friend, the critic Felix Féneon, “the soul and the body of the art.” And he complained that it was a mistake to see poetry in his work, which was simply a matter of method. Should we take Seurat’s cheery summer scenes for granted? You may never do so again….
“Seurat’s dots are a refined device which belongs to art as much as to sensation – the visual world is not perceived as a mosaic of colored points, but this artificial micro-pattern serves the painter as a means of order portioning and nuancing sensation beyond the familiar qualities of the objects that the colors evoke. Here one recalls Rimbaud’s avowal in his Alchemy of the Word: “I regulated the form and the movement of each consonant,” which was to inspire in the poets of Seurat’s generation a similar search of the smallest units of poetic effect.
“Seurat’s dots may be seen as a kind of collage. They create a hollow space within the frame, often a vast depth; but they compel us also to see the picture as a finely structured surface made up of an infinite number of superposed units attached to the canvas. When painters in our century had ceased to concern themselves with the rendering of sensations – a profoundly interesting content for art – they were charmed by Seurat’s inimitable dots and introduced them into their freer painting as a motif, usually among opposed elements of structure and surface. In doing so, they transformed Seurat’s dots – one can’t mistake theirs for his – but they also paid homage to Seurat.”( Schapiro )
…Clearly Seurat must be considered as an artist deeply preoccupied with the modernization and rationalization of perception and aesthetic response, in the same way that this could be said of figures as diverse as, for example, Sergei Eisenstein and Arnold Schoenberg. André Chastel said that Seurat’s method was a form of research into archetypal forms- lines, colors, direction- which answered to a double and deliberately componded ambition at once archaic regression and scientific reduction.
The island of La Grande Jatte- literally, “the big bowl” is a flat, mile long cigar in a loop of the Seine on the northwestern edge of Paris, a few hundred yards upstream from the community of Asnieres. In the 1880′s , as the horizon of “Un Baignade” shows, the whole district was becoming what it is today: very unidyllic, public housing and low income sector. A few green stretches remained, however; the water was still fir for bathing; barge traffic had not yet made amateur boating hazardous. At Asnieres there were sailing and rowing establishments, and the island was a popular weekend summer resort, equipped with dance halls, restaurants, cafés, and grassy promenades.
On warm Sundays, according to memoirs of the period, the area smelled of industrial smoke, heavy perfume, and fish stew and echoed to cheap pianos , barrel organs, and the mock insults traditional among rivermen. But middle class Parisians liked to drive out for a stroll or a sedate picnic, and men of fashion sometimes made an appearance.
…The painter’s operations set up a meeting point between an ancient hieratic art and the rationalized discipline of the future. this affiliation is important because it relocates the problem of Seurat into the midst of the most disturbing questions about modernity and rationalization; the same cultural crisis out of which national socialism emerged. In hinting at a culturally reactionary component of Seurat’s project, it challenges those accounts that have dutifully and reductively identified his interest in science as inevitably allied with progressive political and social positions. …