What? A Giddy Goat post on a Sunday? What is this madness?
I’ll tell you what this madness is. One of my goals (which just happens to fall around the new year) is to become “more cultured.” Like, you know, learning about art and music and literature. And I’ve decided to bring you, dear reader, along on that journey with me.
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, 1884
If you’re like me and you pay much more attention to pop culture than high culture, you probably recognize it from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Measuring about 7 feet by 10 feet (81.75 inches by 121.25 inches), it currently resides in the Art Institute of Chicago. It is an oil on canvas work, part of the Impressionism movement and used a technique called pointillism. Pointillism is a technique where hundreds of thousands of tiny dots are painted and, from a distance, they blend together to form a picture – basically, old school Ben-Day dots (made famous by Roy Lichtenstein).
Seurat preferred to call it Divisionism – placing small touches of separate colors side by side, wherein they would blend in the eye of the viewer.
The setting of the painting – Ile de la Grande Jatte, or ‘Big Bowl Island’ – sits in the middle of the River Seine near the city gates of Paris.
Originally, the fine folks of the art world were not a fan of this painting. To begin with, there were critics of the Impressionist movement so they hated it right from the off. Others thought the people in the painting looked too rigid – as if they were tin soldiers, not bougie French enjoying the afternoon. Little did they know, these postures were meant to reference ancient Egyptian art. Seurat also called upon Greek sculptures and Italian Renaissance frescoes to inspire his painting, in order to elicit a feeling of permanence.
However, in the 1950’s – over 60 years after its first exhibition – Ernest Bloch changed the minds of the public. In his The Principle of Hope, he referred to it as “one single mosaic of boredom.” Not one of the subjects is interacting with one another. They are just…there, supposed to be enjoying their Sunday, but really just trying to get it over with. “Anti-utopian” is often used to describe this scene. The bored expressions and postures are contrasted with the bucolic landscape.
Evidently, this interpretation made the painting “genius.”
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte mirrors one of Seurat’s other paintings, Bathers at Asnières, who lounge on the opposite bank of the Seine. In the far right of the painting, you can see the sailboat and rowers that are on the far left of La Grande Jatte.
The above left-bankers are the working class, while the La Grande Jatte right-bankers are the bourgeoisie Lefters are bathed in light, and Righters hide themselves in shadow – if they’re not under the shade of the trees, they have umbrellas, seemingly to stay out of the hot afternoon sun, though it seems Seurat had other symbolic reasons. They are bathed in shadow (symbolically, suspicious of their sin).
Evidently, that area of La Grande Jatte was a popular spot to pick up prostitutes for the bourgeoisie. If you look to the far left of the photo, there is a woman fishing. What do you think she’s “fishing” for, eh? EH?
There is one character in the middle of the painting – a child all in white – who looks directly at the viewer as if to say, “What will become of these people and their class?”
This little character also makes a notable appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The little girl’s question could be posed to Cameron, “what will become of YOU?” (That could be an interesting blog post in and of itself – exploring the intersecting themes of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
Not only has it been referenced in (arguably) one of the greatest films of the 20th century, but it has been parodied dozens of ways. My personal favorites…
I have only scratched the surface of this painting, and I know it. Volumes have been written on it. A painting like this could be compared to a puddle an inch wide and a mile deep. Unfortunately, my Culture Journey is a mile wide and an inch deep.
Tune in later for a post on a delightful piece of music!
Puchko, K. (2015, May 1). 15 Things You Might Not Know About ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884’ Retrieved January 03, 2017, from http://mentalfloss.com/article/63510/15-things-you-might-not-know-about-sunday-la-grande-jatte-1884
Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”. (n.d.). Retrieved January 03, 2017, from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/51.112.6/