Impressionism and its Successor

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, painted by Georges Seurat from 1884-1886, and Dance at Le Mouline la Galette, painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1876 show the marked similarities and differences between the styles and subject matters of one of the first Impressionist painters, Renoir, and a later Neo-Impressionist artist, Seurat.

Dance at Le Mouline la Galette displays a scene of ordinary townspeople participating in a commonly recognizable Parisian dance location. This image, in the spirit of impressionist works as a whole, was made to depict a common setting of the good, middle class life. Renoir uses an extreme range of colors to meticulously depict light spots and shades on the dance floor and the participants, clearly showing what time of day this event is taking place. He does not leave a figure out, and includes everyone exactly as they are, whether it be talking, dancing, observing, or smoking a pipe. He marvelously depicts the motion of the crowd, in a way which does not seem forced or over dramatized. His soft strokes, realistic color palette, clearly accurate use of light and dark, and characteristics portrayed through his subject matter allow the viewer to almost enter the scene - his image comes to life and invites his audience to venture into the painting, discovering what other lively and bustling crowds might be found in the sprawling expanse of his scene.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte also displays a scene of people outdoors, with an expanding background inviting the viewer in. However, Seurat's display is far less personal than Renoir, as he does not include recognizable facial expressions and qualities, but shows most of his figures from a profile view. This Image seems to display people of a higher class, lounging by the water side with their fancy umbrellas, clothing, (and even a monkey!) Similar to Renoir, Seurat uses a broad range of colors and utilized lights and darks to convey believable shadows as well as patches of light. However, Seurat has a far more scientific approach to his use of color. Using a technique called divisionism, which is very similar to pointillism, the use of dots to compose an image, Seurat placed colors of contrasting and complementary nature next to each other in dotted strokes to create cohesive color from a distance. This phenomenon of two colors placed side by side to create a single color is called optical mixture. Rather than worrying about creating a perfect Shade before placing it on his canvas, Seurat strategically placed countless tiny dots of differing colors and allowed his viewer's eyes to do the mixing work for him. This technique results in a slightly blurred-seeming quality of resolution, as seen in La Grande Jatte.

Though similar in subject matter, Renoir and Seurat's works differ primarily in compositional qualities. Renoir focused more on an invitational, expressive effect in his image, while Seurat thought more of the formal elements of art and their individual contributions to the overall image. The works of these two artists exemplify the changes that occurred throughout the impressionist movement as a whole, and the increasing interest in scientific principles and explainable composition.