Georges Seurat finished painting this when he was twenty-four and it is a masterpiece.
This painting’s layout is arguably described by a story-telling ‘Golden Section’.
Take the five ‘sticks’ in Seurat’s painting; from left to right, (1) the seated man’s cane, (2) the centre standing woman’s parasol, (3) the centre sitting woman’s parasol, (4) the standing man’s cane, (5) the right-most standing woman’s parasol.
Extend the stick lines out to the borders and see what happens. The white lines are by my eye.
Arguably, there is one story being told here and, it is a story about children.
The main couple, large right in the foreground, are depicted childless; save a monkey on a leash. But, if we take Seurat’s framing and a Golden Section into account, we can see that they are somehow connected to the running girl in the red dress. Why?
We also see that the girl looking at us is placed perfectly within the Section. As is also the seated girl with the flowers, bounded perfectly by the two lines of the rightmost couple.
What else can we see?
[a] All the trees have mid-afternoon shadows, except for the tree nearest us to the left. A very large shadow is completely missing from where it should be. Why?
[b] There’s a red triangle halfway up at the right hand border. Replicated elsewhere on the painting as an edge of a red parasol. Seurat paints figures completely off canvas. Like Degas did; was this a painter’s nod to the forthcoming camera? Or, if not, setting up a new kind of tension in the painting? It’s fascinating.
[c] The black dog has no collar. Why?
[d] The monkey on the leash. Look at the paint layering. Was the monkey an after-thought?
[e] Seurat’s painting has girls, but no boys. Why?
[f] The man has what looks like an inverted trumpet, or trombone. Why?
Seurat tells many stories in his painting. But, perhaps, the story of the childless couple and the girl in the red dress is a story we can tell to ourselves.
When we do – we can see beauty, everywhere.
Seurat, Georges (1884). ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte’, Gallery 240, The Art Institute of Chicago.