Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Georges Seurat (1885)

A painting that has reached far into popular culture, thanks to Sondheim and John Hughes (in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the soundtrack to this pic is The Smithsgorgeous Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want) as well as the Simpsons(!). Seurat turns his back on the idea, beloved of the Impressionists, of capturing of chance, fleeting moments of motion or light, and aims instead at something more like the permanence of a Classical Greek sculpture. Although there is a lot to see, the characters here are static or stuck; although the light is vibrant – he thought his pointillism gave colour extra potency – almost all of them are in ominous shadow. Only one is looking at us – the girl in white who brings us into the painting with a terrifying, accusatory look. Its another picture that offers no answers – do we stare from afar, or wonder up close at the cumulative effect of individual dabs? – but were still captivated by the immobility of these people and the enigma of their intractable silence.