Puzzling with Seurat

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884

Our celebration of the Fourth of July with Carolyn and Phil Cohan at their Eastern Shore home started out rainy. Soon three of us were involved in solving a Liberty puzzle of Georges-Pierre Seurat’s masterpiece, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884. What better way to celebrate our country’s birthday than with teamwork? With several Liberty puzzles already in her repertoire, Carolyn divided the 549 pieces into sections by color, then provided pointers on technique, such as first studying a certain negative space, then looking for a piece to fill it. Periodically, we called upon Phil for help with the big picture. Steve and Joe cheered us on as they watched baseball and golf.

Wooden Liberty puzzles are incredibly intricate. My mind kept trying to fit pieces together well into my dreams that night. After perhaps 20 person-hours, we finished at six on Sunday evening. For breaks, we took a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay, ate great meals, laughed until our sides ached, discussed Southern history, looked at old pictures, and played with the dogs. Here are my photos.

Focusing in detail on a great work of art fosters appreciation. One Thanksgiving years ago, the kids and I worked a cardboard puzzle of Picasso’s Guernica and felt its power. Liberty’s wooden pieces have substance and character missing in cardboard. We were inspired to learn more. Here’s what we discovered about Seurat and his painting:

  • La Grande Jatte is an island in Paris’ Seine River, not un grand jeté (“big leap” in ballet). Nor is it the title of the musical that the painting inspired, Sunday in the Park with George.
  • Seurat was the founder of Pointillism, a method that utilizes colors in patches that essentially trick the human eye into blending them, creating luminance and shape. The millions of dots in this painting took him two years to complete after he first made 60 sketches of Parisians in parks.
  • Seurat sought to capture the people of his Paris just as Egyptians, Greeks, and Phoenicians immortalized their citizens in art, but some critics sneered at the rigid profiles.
  • Seurat was just 26 when he finished this work; he died at 31 of an undetermined illness.
  • The painting, now hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago, is huge, about 7 feet by 10 feet. Our puzzle was 14″ x 20″.

Now I can’t wait to tackle the Liberty puzzle of a Renoir that cousin Jay gave me last Christmas. After all, Liberty’s motto is “sit long, talk much.”

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