Friday, December 04, 2009

Arty Farty Friday ~ Georges Seurat

A Sun Sagittarian artist is this week's subject: Georges Seurat, born in Paris, France on 2 December 1859. He died in 1891, aged only 31, struck down by diptheria, a nasty infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract, now almost completely eradicated in the western world, thanks to a programme of vaccination. Seurat's baby son died of the disease shortly after his father, and the artist's father succumbed to diptheria one month later. (Left: Seurat's famous painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. More about it below.)

Seurat was a man of modest means and modest lifestyle. He was abstinent from alcohol, or any substances and stayed totally devoted to his art. He was known as a quiet and at times depressed, but robust and generous person. He was always helping his friends and arranging their exhibitions and hanging the paintings. He lived in his art-studio with his young model Madeleine Knobloch, whom he met in 1889. She came from a working class family and was not fully accepted by Seurat's established friends. In February of 1890, she gave birth to their son Pierre-George. Seurat was secretive about his private life, a trait he inherited from his father. See here.

One of Seurat's claims to fame is the introduction of an art style known as pointillism, in which small distinct points of primary colors create the impression of a wide selection of secondary colors. The technique relies on the perceptive ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to mix the color spots into a fuller range of tones, and is related closely to Divisionism, a more technical variant of the method.

Seurat used pointillism in his best-known works - one most widely known is "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", painted in 1884. Computer screen cannot hope to show his technique, nor its value - you'd need to get up close and personal with the canvas, then stand well back to appreciate the way his "dots" work.

After working on La Grande Jatte for two years, Seurat exhibited the painting in 1886 at the eight and final Impressionist exhibition. The large picture, measured more than two meters by three, and executed in an entirely new technique using dots, was received in very different ways, like the first Impressionist exhibition twelve years before. It was precisely the picture's technique that aroused the most displeasure amongst the public, critics and artists.

Only one art critic, Félix Fénéon (1861-1944), proved able to understand and subsequently write an informed analysis of Seurat’s technique and style, “If one looks at any uniformly shaded area in Seurat’s Grande Jatte, one can find on every centimeter of it a swirling swarm of small dots which contains all the elements which comprise the color desired. Take that patch of lawn in the shade; most of the dots reflect the local colors of the grass, others, orange-colored and much scarcer, express the barely perceptible influence of the sun; occasional purple dots establish the complementary color of green; a cyanine blue, necessitated by an adjacent patch of lawn in full sunlight, becomes increasingly dense closer to the borderline, but beyond this line gradually loses its intensity… Juxtaposed on the canvas but yet distinct, the colors reunite on the retina: hence we have before us not a mixture of pigment colors but a mixture of variously colored rays of light ."
In Seurat's natal chart, then, I'd expect to see something indicating attention to minute detail, disciplined dedication, and from the paragraph above, generosity of spirit, quiet and abstinent.

Okay...let's see:

Astrodatabank gives his time of birth as 1:00 AM, which means Virgo was rising as he came into the world - one of Virgo's most reliable traits is....attention to detail. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be, and the patience involved, to paint a huge canvas using only tiny dots of different colours - and produce something of beauty! The reference to his being "abstinent" could also be a reflection of Virgo rising, for Virgo connects to discernment in all things.

His Sun, Venus and Mercury all in Sagittarius, a sign prone to excess and exaggeration - a hint as to his penchant for producing very large paintings? The generosity and robustness mentioned in a quote above relates clearly to Sagittarius. Sadly, even the most robust of individuals in the 19th century and beyond could not withstand the onslaught of diptheria.

Saturn, planet of discipline, hard work, mathematics and science in Leo is in harmonious trine to his natal Venus (the arts planet) and Mercury (communications). Pointillism has its roots in science (see the section "Scientific background and influences" at Wikipedia's page on Seurat. Here then, in this trine between Saturn/Venus&Mercury is the astrological echo of Seurat's embrace of this scientific yet artistic style

Uranus, planet of innovation is in Gemini and opposite his Sagittarian Sun, linking his draw to something new and untried. This aspect between Sun and Uranus might also reflect a streak of mild anarchy in his nature. Reports state that though he was never labelled an anarchist himself, Seurat's circle of friends included several well- known anarchists (Félix Fénéon for instance) with whose views he did not appear to disagree.

But where is the astrological indication of depression in his nature, mentioned above? I suspect the Grand Cross, a linked configuration of aspects made up of challenging squares and oppositions, Sun/Moon/Uranus and Saturn is the echo of his occasional depression, and perhaps even the final disastrous breakdown of his health - a natal propensity for challenge feeding in to the atmosphere of the times he lived in, when disease ran rampant.

A few examples of Seurat's work:

Young Woman Powdering Herself

The Circus (his last, unfinished, work).

Bridge of Courbevoie,

La Chahut

Bathers at Asnieres

And now for something completely different: a few of Seurat's early black and white sketches. I actually prefer these.
The technique developed by Seurat in the early 1880s was based on the use of the contrast between black and white to define forms. On the rough surface of laid paper, the crayon catches the raised areas and leaves the hollows white. The use of a very greasy Conte crayon gives the blacks a velvety quality and particularly appealing depth. Seurat used this technique to express his artistic sensitivity in a simple, grave style. He concentrated on the essential: making shapes loom out of interlocking areas of light and shade. HERE.

Portrait of Aman-Jean.

The Nurse

The Black Bow


Wisewebwoman said...

I'd never seen the B&Ws, T. I agree with you. I find his paintings a little too stylized for my taste but the sketches are exquisite...

Laura said...

What beautiful artwork. I have never actually seen his paintings before but they are certainly to my taste.

Twilight said...

WWW and Laura ~~~ It was such a tragedy that he died so young. Who knows what new styles and techniques - and masterpieces, he might have come up with later in life.