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POINTILLISM, AS DEFINED by Merriam-Webster, is “the theory or practice in art of applying small strokes or dots of color to a surface so that from a distance they blend together.”
Yes, and so much more: Britannica notes, “The technique is associated with its inventor, Georges Seurat, and his student, Paul Signac, who both espoused Neo-Impressionism, a movement that flourished from the late 1800s to the first decade of the 20th century.”
Wikipedia brings matters up to date: “Pointillism is analogous to the four-color CMYK printing process used by some color printers and large presses that place dots of cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow, and key (black). Television and computer monitors use a similar technique to represent colors using Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) colors.”
Here are tidbits on these observations, together with side trips to Broadway, Chicago, and an island in the Seine, not necessarily in that order.
An Artist’s Life. Georges Seurat studied art at the École des Beaux-Arts in his native Paris. In 1879, he left for a year of military service at the Brest Military Academy, after which he returned to Paris.
Seurat’s first major painting, Baigneurs à Asnières, Bathers at Asnières, 1884, depicts a scene just to the east of La Grande Jatte, the suburban Parisian island soon to be made famous in his pointillist work. Wikipedia describes Bathers at Asnières as displaying “a combination of complex brushstroke techniques, and a meticulous application of contemporary colour theory….”
Seurat offered Bathers at Asnières to the jury of the 1884 Salon, but they rejected it.
Pointillist Success. Un Dimanche Après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-1886, enhances what Wikipedia calls “a sense of gentle vibrancy and timelessness” of Bathers at Asnières with Seurat’s introduction of pointillism, of dots of color perceived as a whole.
In Seurat’s time, La Grande Jatte was at a gate of Paris, a bucolic retreat far from the urban center. Today, the island is shared by Neuilly-sur-Seine and Levallois-Perret, in the west of Paris, just east of La Défense business district.
A Chicago Home. In 1923, Frederic Bartlett was appointed trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago. His wife Helen Birch Bartlett had an interest in French and avant garde artists. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grade Jatte was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1924.
Wikipedia shares a tidbit: In 1958, the painting was loaned out for the only time, to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. On April 15, 1958, a fire at the museum forced evacuation of the painting to the Whitney Museum. It has since safely returned to Chicago.
Pointillism on Broadway. Sunday in the Park with George, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, came to Broadway in 1984, a hundred years after Seurat’s introduction of pointillism. The musical has had six revivals since then (and a place in my CD collection.)
There’s an element of time travel, with 1884 Act I describing a complex relationship of artist George and his model Dot. Act I closes with a final tableau of the artist’s characters arranging themselves correctly in the painting.
Act II takes place in 1984 and begins with the same tableau, the characters now complaining “It’s Hot Up Here.” George and Dot’s great-grandson is an artist, also named George. Like his great-grandfather, he too has to contend with the difficulties of producing modern art. A vision of Dot persuades George that his artistic choices are correct ones. “White: a blank page or canvas—so many possibilities.”
And, of course, Dot’s name is so apt. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021