Three Brush Strokes on La Grande Jatte (1996)
THOMAS C. DUFFY
Un Dimanche aprs-midi ˆ I’lle de la Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (1859-91), perhaps one of the most recognized paintings of this Impressionist artist, depicts the Seine island of La Grande Jatte on a Sunday afternoon. The painting hangs in the Chicago Art Institute, where its immediate subject is clear at once.
“It is four o’clock on Sunday afternoon in the dog days. On the river the swift bark darts to and fro. On the island itself, a Sunday population has come together at random, and from a delight in the fresh air, among the trees. Seurat has treated his forty or so figures in summary and hieractic style, setting them up frontally or with their back to us in profile, seated at right-angels, stretched out horizontally, or bolt upright...” (FenŽon)
This marvelous painting is presented here in music through three settings. Part I, The Big Picture, features a French-like melody of both a frivolous and somber nature, not unlike the sentiments projected by the figures in the painting. This section is in focus, its elements clearly defined, representing the painting when viewed from a distance.
Part II, Points, presents the original French-like melody set as the result of staccato pinpoints of sound. This represents the detail of the painting: a closeup of the artwork shows small points of color, which combine to outline figures only from a distance. The original melody can be heard over the pitter-patter of the pointalistic instrument chatter.
Part III, Smears, represents the rough sketch that Seurat made for La Grande Jatte. This sketch, entitled Equisse d’Ensemble, in one-third the size of La Grande Jatte, and is fuzzy and blurred in the wonderful way of the Impressionist school. No longer points, the smear and dabs of color stretch to offer objects and figures without detail. The music follows suit, presenting micro-lines of melody which combine to make a writhing tapestry of harmony, over which are set lines of the original melody. This might represent the middle ground of the paintingÑthe objective impression obtained from a location neither so far away as to weaken the detail, nor so close as to diffuse the subjects.
Back to index of works