The Circus of Seurat

BY JESSICA CARMINE

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat

Georges Seurat was a late nineteenth-century painter, and a central figure of the Neo-Impressionist movement. The Neo-Impressionists wanted to refine the spontaneous approach favoured by Impressionist artists into a science of form and colour. Seurat is best known for his painting, ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’, which became the model for the pointillist technique so quintessential to Neo-Impressionism.

 Neo-Impressionism, however, was still similar to Impressionism in many ways. Both groups rejected the notion that only grand historical or mythological scenes were suitable subjects for a painting. Instead, they chose to depict the contemporary middle-class life of leisure and relaxation. They also abandoned the idea that artists should use lots of careful detail to make their paintings as realistic as possible. Instead, both Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists were more interested in using bright, unmixed patches of colour. Pointillism is a painting technique where small dots of colour are painted or drawn in such a way that the pattern makes distinct images. Seurat created this technique with Paul Signac in the late nineteenth century.

The Circus by George Seurat
The Circus by George Seurat

Towards the end of his life, Seurat created some of the most dynamic works of art that are sometimes eclipsed by his more well-known pieces. ‘The Circus’, is an unfinished piece that Seurat was working on prior to his death in 1891. Vibrant, bold colours bring a simplistic scene of a circus performer balancing on a horse in front of a crowd to life. The painting is dynamic, full of life and a bold use of lines brings excitement to the painting. The circus performers, and the audience jump out of the painting, especially the performer on the horse, in her bright yellow costume.

Georges Seurat combined an analytical approach to colour with a playful abstraction of form, allowing him to paint in an inventive and unique way. His paintings have been studied and admired since their creation, and continue to fascinate and delight some 130 years later.

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