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b. 1859, Paris, France; d. 1891, Paris
Georges Seurat was born on December 2, 1859, in Paris. In 1875 he attended the municipal school of sculptor Justin Lequien. From March 1878 to November 1879 he was enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After a year of military service on the Breton coast, Seurat returned to Paris. From the late 1870s his interest in current scientific theories about color perception and chromatics grew, and by 1881, he had studied Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors (1839) by Michel-Eugène Chevreul and treatises by Charles Blank, Thomas Couture, Ogden N. Rood, and David Sutter.
A portrait drawing by Seurat was selected for the 1883 Salon. In 1884 after being rejected by the Salon, he, with Henri-Edmond Cross, Maximilian Luce, Odilon Redon, and Paul Signac, founded the Salon des Indépendants. With Cross and Signac, Seurat developed Divisionism (the term he preferred to Pointilism), breaking down colors into their constituent hues and applying them side by side on canvas. In Seurat's method, which he also called peinture optique, colors placed next to each other were intended to mix in the eye of the viewer and approximate the quality of natural light. In 1886 Seurat met mathematician and scientist Charles Henry. Vocal in his ideas about the interconnections between aesthetics and science, Henry influenced Seurat’s desire to logically control color and space and his later attempts to find methodical, scientific means of composition.
In addition to numerous smaller works, Seurat created seven major paintings, the best-known of which is perhaps Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte (1884–86, Art Institute of Chicago) first exhibited in the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886. Throughout the late 1880s, he summered on the Channel coast, working outdoors from the landscape and following the example of Impressionism in selecting his subject matter. In the late 1880s he expanded his depictions of bourgeois Parisian life to include scenes of circuses and cabarets.
Shortly after installing the 1891 Salon des Indépendants, Seurat took ill. He died on March 29 in Paris, after a brief bout with pneumonia or meningitis. At his parents' request, the contents of Seurat's studio were classified and, after a proposed gift to the Louvre was refused, dispersed among Madeleine Knobloch (his common-law wife) and several of Seurat's followers.