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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

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

Georges Seurat was born in France in 1859. Georges spent many hours in his college library studying art. He was absorbed in books on the scientific color theory and the emotional value of lines, angles, and curves. On summer afternoons he sketched on location at the seashore and in the streets of Paris. Seurat spent two years painting A Sunday Afternoon, focusing on the landscape of the park, which is an island in the river Seine in Paris. He reworked the original as well as completed numerous preliminary drawings and oil sketches. Motivated by study in optical and color theory, he contrasted miniature dots of colors that form a single hue in the viewer's eye. He believed that this form of painting, now known as pointillism, would make the colors more brilliant and powerful. To make the experience of the painting even more vivid, he surrounded it with a frame of painted dots, which in turn he enclosed with a pure white, wooden frame, which is how the painting is exhibited today at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Questions to Ask

What is the first thing that you see? This is the focal point. The focal point is what first draws your eye, something that stands out.

Who has been to a park recently? What did it look like? How did it compare to this park?

Ask the students to count the people in the painting. Is the park large or small? What are they wearing? How is the style of the 1800's clothing different that today?

Can you find the woman holding flowers? Can you find the man playing the trumpet and the girl jumping rope?

How many sporting activities are going on in this painting? Hint — sailing, fishing, canoeing, swimming,etc. Is this lake in this painting a good place for swimming? What would swimming suits look like back then? What sounds would you hear in the park on a Sunday afternoon? How would they be different on a Monday morning? Is it possible to say both scenes are peaceful? How?

What makes this painting look like you can walk into it? How has the artist used perspective? Ask the students to point identify these themes in the painting: overlapping, near objects are big, far objects are small, artists place near things near to us, low on the canvas, and far things higher on the canvas.

Seurat was a Post Impressionist. He invented the form of painting known as pointillism, small brushstrokes of color. In his paintings he contrasted miniature dots of colors. Ask the students to look closely at the print. Can you see the small dots? What colors do you see? Do you see the orange and blue dots and dashes of paint? Do you think that this type of painting is easy or difficult to do?

Do you think this painting took a long time to do? Hint — this painting is huge, about the size of a wall. Much of the work was done at night with the use of a gas lantern, because electricity was no available.

Activities for the Classroom

Additional Kid Friendly Resources at the AHML are "Seurat and La Grande Jatte: connecting the dots" by Robert Burleigh, and "Katie's Sunday afternoon" by James Mayhew.

Read a poem about a visit to a park or a picnic then ask the students draw a picture of themselves at a recent visit to a park. Provide colored pencils and paper for each child to try the Pointillism technique. Have them use primary colors to create secondary colors.

Ask the students to choose one person from the painting. Imagine you could join him or her on the island. What would you ask your new friend? What games would you play? How would you be dressed? Then ask them to draw a picture of themselves and their new friend in the painting.

Provide Q tips and paint. Ask the students to create a portrait of their classroom or a classmate by combining small dots of paint as done in this print.

Let the children try out Pointillism by using primary color markers. The objective is to create other colors. They can write their name that way or do a basic drawing.

Display both the poster of the final artwork and the work-in-progress. Have the students compare the two and comment on the process and style.

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