Seurat was born in Paris in 1859 into a well-to-do family. He first studied art with Justin Lequien, a sculptor. He attended the École des Beaux-Arts between 1878 and 1879. After a year of service at Brest Military Academy he returned to Paris in 1880. He shared a small studio on the Left Bank with two student friends before moving to a studio of his own. For the next two years he devoted himself to mastering the art of black-and-white drawing. He spent 1883 on his first major painting—a huge canvas titled Bathers at Asnières, his first major painting and the first of six large canvases that would constitute the bulk of his life's work.
After his painting was rejected by the Paris Salon, Seurat turned away from such establishments and allied himself with the young independent painters. In May and June 1884, Seurat's Bathing at Asnieres hung at the first exhibition of the new group of Artistes Independents, mounted in a temporary hut near the ruined Palais des Tuileries. The show ended in financial muddle, but out of the ensuing arguments a properly constituted Société des Artistes Indépendants emerged, committed to holding an annual show with no jury. Seurat attended its committee meetings regularly, always sitting in the same seat, quietly smoking his pipe. There he met and befriended fellow artist Paul Signac. Seurat shared his new ideas about pointillism with Signac, who subsequently painted in the same idiom.
|1884 Bathers at Asnières oil on canvas 201 x 300 cm|
|1884-86 Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte oil on canvas 207.5 x 308.1 cm|
Seurat's relative financial ease meant that he was unused to dealing with potential clients, and his demands remained modest despite his new fame. Once, when pressed to name his price for the painting he was showing at "The Twenty" exhibition in Brussels, Seurat replied, "I compute my expenses on the basis of one year at seven francs a day". His attitude to his work was similarly down-to-earth and unromantic - he had no pretensions to the status of genius. When some critics tried to describe his work as poetic he contradicted them: "No, I apply my method and that is all". He was, however, very concerned not to lose any credit for the originality of his technique and guarded the details obsessively. Seurat's life had begun to assume a regular pattern. During the winter months, he would lock himself away in his studio working on a big figure picture to exhibit in the spring, then he would spend the summer months in one of the Normandy ports such as Honfleur, working on smaller, less complex, marine paintings. Whether in Paris or at the coast, Seurat was never a great socializer and in the last year of his life he virtually cut himself off from friends.
Late in 1889, when Seurat was approaching 30, he moved away from the bustling Boulevard de Clichy to a studio in a quieter street nearby, where, unknown to his family and friends - he lived with a young model, Madeleine Knobloch. In February 1890 she gave birth, in the studio, to his son. Seurat legally acknowledged the child and gave him his own Christian names in reverse. But it was not until two days before his death that he introduced his young family to his mother.
Georges Seurat died in March 1891, totally unexpectedly: he seems to have contracted a form of meningitis. One week he was helping to hang the paintings at the Independents exhibition and worrying about the fact that his hero Puvis de Chavannes had walked past The Circus without so much as a glance; the following week he was dead at just 31 years of age. Signac sadly concluded "our poor friend killed himself by overwork".
|Detail from "Young Woman Powdering Herself 1889-90, showing Seurat's technique|
|1877-8 Helmeted Warrior charcoal on laid paper 64.8 x 47.5 cm|
|1878-9 Landscape at Saint-Ouen oil on wood 17.5 x 26.4 cm|
|c1879-91 Stone Breaker, Le Raincy graphite on paper|
|1880 Flowers in a Vase|
|1881 The Forest at Pontaubert oil on canvas 79.1 x 62.5 cm|
|1881-2 Grassy Riverbank 32 x 41 cm|
|1881-2 House at Dusk conté crayon on paper 30.6 x 23.7 cm|
|1881-2 Landscape with Houses conté crayon on paper 24.9 x 31.9 cm|
|1881-2 Man on the Parapet 25 x 16.5 cm|
|1881-2 Nude Woman graphite & crayon on paper 63.2 x 48.2 cm © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London|
|c1881-4 Peasants conté crayon on paper 24.8 x 31.6 cm|
|1881-82 Young Peasant in Blue oil on wood|
|c1881 Black Cow in a Meadow oil on panel 6 ⅛ x 9 ½ in|
|1882-3 Aman-Jean (Portrait of Edmond François Aman-Jean) conté crayon on Michallet paper 62.2 x 47.5 cm|
|1882-3 Embroidery: The Artist's Mother conté crayon on Michallet paper 31.2 x 24.1 cm|
|1882-3 Foal conté crayon on laid paper 24.8 x 31.8 cm|
|1882-3 The Gardener oil on wood 15.9 x 24.8 cm|
|1882-3 View of the Seine oil on wood 15.9 x 24.8 cm|
|c1882-3 A Farmer's Girl Sitting in a Meadow oil on canvas 38.1 x 46.2 cm|
|c1882-3 Banlieue oil on canvas 32.2 x 41 cm|
|c1882-3 Boy Sitting on the Grass, Pontaubert oil on canvas 25.6 x 31.9 cm|
|c1882-3 Place de la Concorde, Winter conté crayon on paper 23.2 x 30.8 cm|
|c1882-4 Two Men Walking in a Field conté crayon on laid paper 31.8 x 24.3 cm|
|c1882 (Stone Breaker) oil on canvas 34.3 x 42 cm|
|c1882 Farmer with Mattock oil on canvas 46.3 x 56.1 cm|
|c1882 Fisherman in a Moored Boat oil on panel 16.5 x 24.8 cm © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London|
|c1882 The Gardener oil on panel 15.7 x 24.7 cm|