To the Point: Who Was Painter Georges Seurat?

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the imaginary tale of 19th-century pointillist painter Georges Seurat in Broadway's revival of 'Sunday in the Park With George.' We explore the real life of the famously private artist.
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Jake Gyllenhaal 'Sunday in the Park With George' Photo

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as painter Georges Seurat in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's 'Sunday in the Park With George.'

Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat is having a revival in New York. Not only does he have a thematic exhibition — based on his famous painting Circus Sideshow — currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but his life is also being fictionalized in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park With George, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Seurat.

While Sunday in the Park With George is a fictionalized account of the painter's life, we decided to explore the real life of the artist, who is known for works such as Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Bathers at AsnièresThe Circus, and The Models. Seurat is also famously known for developing pointillism, a technique that uses tiny dots and small brush strokes to create a form.

Here are some facts about his life:

Seurat came from money.

Born on December 2, 1859 in Paris, Georges Seurat came from a well-off family. His father was a legal official who spent the majority of his time away in the suburbs. Seurat's mother tended to the children at their Boulevard de Magenta home, where she spent a great deal of time with them in the manicured gardens of le Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. It was these memories that inspired many of Seurat's paintings.

His interest in drawing was evident at an early age, and he was able to study with notable teachers like French sculptor Justin Lequien as well as Henri Lehmann from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

Seurat produced his most famous work at the age of 25.

Painted in 1884, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is one of the most famous examples of Seurat's pointillism. Experimenting with color, form, and light, Seurat exhibited La Grande Jatte in 1886 and from then on, was deemed the forerunner of a new branch of Impressionism called Neo-Impressionism.

'A Sunday on La Grande Jatte' Photo

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884.

Seurat was at the center of controversy.

Despite being quiet, reserved and down-to-earth, Seurat was considered a controversial figure in the art world because of his method of pointillism. Because of his wealthy background, he was unaccustomed to dealing with clients and also never viewed himself an artistic genius, despite being labeled as such. "No, I apply my method and that is all," he once told critics who tried to add deeper meaning to his art. Despite his practical outlook on his work, he was fiercely protective of his technique and the originality of the works he produced.

'Young Woman Powdering Herself' George Seurat Photo

Young Woman Powdering Herself, 1889-90.

Seurat had a secret love affair.

Unbeknownst to friends and family, Seurat had a secret relationship. In 1889 he moved to a quieter studio in Paris with his lover, Madeleine Knobloch, who had been the subject of his painting, Young Woman Powdering Herself. In 1890 Knobloch gave birth to their son, Pierre-Georges, and it was only two days before Seurat died that he introduced his common-law wife and his son to his mother.

Seurat died young.

On March 29, 1891 Seurat unexpectedly died at the age of 31. The cause was most likely a form of meningitis. Just weeks later, his son died from the same disease. At the time of Seurat's death, he had been busy working on one of his other famous works, Circus, which he never completed.