I hadn’t thought deeply about Georges Seurat’s A Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte) in years. What’s remarkable is how prescient the painting remains more than 100 years later.
Seurat’s masterpiece addresses working-class relaxation made possible by technology, which, at the time meant the great whirling factories of the industrial revolution. The scene is rendered via a highly systematic and “scientific” technique known as Pointillism, whereby Seurat used tiny dots and dashes of pure color, not unlike the red, green, and blue pixels that combine to display Instagram photos on our smartphones. If you stand too close, all you see are specks of colorful pixels — it’s only with distance that we gain perspective. It’s as if Seurat painted a digital photograph a full century before the first wave of digital cameras would hit retail shelves.