A Brief Look at Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte:
The various elements of this painting form carefully balanced verticals all across the canvas, repeated with the trunks of trees and the rather stiff figures. Partly responsible for the sedate atmosphere, these verticals support the verdant background, contrasting and breaking up the horizontals found at the horizon. Diagonals from the shadows and the obvious perspective cross the painting giving a greater sense of space between the foreground through the background. The sloping ground is reinforced by the large figures on the right and the sitting and reclining figures on the left. Figures to the front of the picture plane are grouped in shadow, further emphasizing this impression, complimenting the cool color of the water. Perspective and unification of the image are further developed by the umbrellas some figures are holding.
The cool hues of the water, bounded by the neutral white of the walls on the banks, intensify the warm sunlight on the grass and are seen in the sundry figures dressed in white. The strength of the sunlight is balanced against the relative coolness of shadows and is enhanced by the neutral grays and blacks in the foreground and scattered throughout the painting. Along with the warm colors worn by figures from front to back, a careful balance is achieved. Of course, all of this is obtained through the use of small dots of color we refer to as pointillism or divisionism.
Space and Balance
Seurat achieves balance as previously mentioned. Furthermore, he places three major wedge shaped areas of shadow, bright sunlight, and cool water as diagonal swaths across the canvas. The spaces from front to back contain a regular rhythm of small groupings of figures and expanses of grass.
Motion and Rhythm
Due to the strong sense of serenity and balance of this painting, little movement is seen. However, a strong visual rhythm is setup up among the groups of figures. The spatial arrangements, the use of color, and the strong linear emphasis accent this rhythm.
This painting has a strong sense of tranquility and order. The recognizable figures and objects are obvious, including the monkey and dogs in the foreground. The title is rather straightforward and the subject is not unique since impressionists such as Monet also painted in this locale.
Even Vincent van Gogh got in on the action.
The elements of this work provoke with most viewers a sense of quiet and solemnity. Yet the painting, because of its rigid figures and scientifically arranged colored dots, leaves a feeling of a lack of spontaneity which dulls the scene. The inattention to the expressions of individual figures also supports this conclusion.