A Sunday Afternoon on the Island Of La Grande Jatte 1886 by Georges Seurat





Seurat’s painting represents a Sunday afternoon on a French island of La Grande Jatte. This painting has been considered special as it was the first to be executed in pointillist style. It was also the first to include so many people all playing different major roles. Looking at the painting, it’s clear that each detail was carefully planned (Sievers, 2000:166)

From a contemporary description of the painting, we learn that Seurat has included a broad description of the contemporary Parisian society (Everdell, 1994 64). It’s an afternoon and the sun is blazing. On the opposite bank are smart villas steamers, sailing boats and a rowing boat gliding across the water. Close to the foreground, beneath the trees, are people taking a walk while some are sited. Some people on the painting are fishing while others are stretching out on the cyanine blue grass. We also see young girls, a nanny and an elderly grandmother beneath a parasol. In the left middle ground is a woman dressed in gold and orange. She is fishing. In the middle ground, centre of the painting, a young woman is holding her daughter’s hand. Two soldiers are standing not far from the water’s edge. We also see married couple holding their baby in their arms. On the extreme right of the painting, a young gentleman is reaching out his arm to his young woman companion who has a monkey on a yellow lead (Düchting, 2000: 35).

Art historians have interpreted everything in Seurat’s painting. They have also sought symbolic depictions within Seurat’s art work.  Many art historians have taken this to be a moralistic statement about the French culture, class and social life in general. Looking at the right foreground, accompanying the gentle man, is a pointer to Grande Jatte’s popularity as the island of love. However, the lady has a monkey on a lead.  French word for monkey is une singesse and that is also the French slang for prostitute. Therefore, art historians try to argue that this woman must be a prostitute with her client. Looking at woman who is fishing, she is hardly dressed like a woman who was to go out on a fishing expedition. Considering the French word for fish, which is pécher, the same word means sin in French. So it is most likely that Seurat is identifying her acts as acts of sin. Unaccompanied fishing women at the time were considered “easy” (Düchting, 2000: 36).

In the middle or at the centre of the painting, there is a woman holding her daughters hand. The small girl is in a white dress. The deliberate manner in which they are placed in the picture suggests that they may be carrying a great symbolic meaning. The child is likely to be interpreted as a symbol of hope. Hope to a society that has become very immoral and rigid. White in the centre could also symbolize that the prismatic colors are born of white light (Düchting, 2000:36).


In a single painting, Seurat communicated more than can be put in written words (William 64). He communicated different themes such as love, leisure, coexistence, lifestyle, social immorality among others. He communicates all these through the use of different symbols in his artwork. He brings out tolerance, coexistence and support by including an elderly grandmother and a nanny in his painting. He also symbolizes the theme of love through different ways. He brings it out by including a married couple with their child in their arms. He also includes a gentleman with a young lady. This still emphasizes on love. Seurat also tries to show the broken moral fabric in the society in different ways. He brings out this by including various symbols of filth such as monkey. A monkey may have been used to show some evil ideas in love. These might be prostitution or even infidelity. In a nutshell, it is logic to say that Seurat tries to communicate various life lessons and messages through his work of art. His idea to pass his message through the use of art was successful. He communicated.

Work cited

Düchting, Hajo. The Master of Pointillism: A Sunday On La Grande Jatte. Taschen (2000) Retrieved on 29t October. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=_f6yz_GilWAC&pg=PA35&dq=a+sunday+afternoon+on+the+island+of+la+grande+jatte&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lgpNVJfhCqy27gaGk4GoAw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=a%20sunday%20afternoon%20on%20the%20island%20of%20la%20grande%20jatte&f=false

Everdell William R. The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought: A Sunday On La Grande Jatte. University of Chicago Press (1997) retrived on 26th October. Retrived from http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=yVRb9sJ2KjEC&pg=PA63&dq=a+sunday+afternoon+on+the+island+of+la+grande+jatte&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lgpNVJfhCqy27gaGk4GoAw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=a%20sunday%20afternoon%20on%20the%20island%20of%20la%20grande%20jatte&f=false

Sievers, Anne H. Master Drawings from the Smith College Museum of Art: A Sunday On The Island of La Grande Jatte. Hudson Hiss (2000) Retrieved on 26th October. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=lR1JMln0CHUC&pg=PA166&dq=a+sunday+afternoon+on+the+island+of+la+grande+jatte&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3g1NVIaTG4PfPbHygKAP&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=a%20sunday%20afternoon%20on%20the%20island%20of%20la%20grande%20jatte&f=false



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