Sunday in the Park with George

Last night I had the pleasure to attend the NIDA production of Sunday in the Park with George (16-20 Oct) a muscial writtern by Stephen Sondheim and was originally performed on Broadway in 1984. The musical loosely follows Georges Seurat the acknowledged leader of the post-impressionists and inventor of pointillism  during the time of his life where he was creating his masterpiece Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte - 1884 (Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte).

The musical draws attention to two difficult parts of being an Artist, that of doing something ground breaking such as Seurats new painting technique that founded a new art movement Neo-Impressionism to that of future George getting stuck in a rut creating the same art pice over and over again to scared to try something new.

Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte - Georges Seurat 1884-86

The cast of the painting comprises of one monkey, three dogs, eight boats, and 48 people as they congregated for a Sunday afternoon in the sunny park. The cast of the musical is much smaller in comparison.

The Musical

The program (click to enlarge)

he entire cast of this play come from this painting from Dot (Olivia Charalambous) the female lead played who appears front right walking her monkey to his mother (Amanda Muggleton) and nurse (Vanessa Cole)  sitting on the left top third point.

The performance start right from the first moment you head in to take a seat, the orchestra their instruments and the entire cast are sitting stage left and right with a bed front left with Georges sketching and his Mistress Dot asleep on the bed. The stage dressing is simple but powerful a blank canvas with the orchestra in the back wall,  the costuming is brillent too.

It was clear while I was watching why NIDA is the top drematic arts school in the country as they have so many talentedactors and too think this production was for the second year Musical Theatre students I cannot wait to see what they do for their final production. I thoroughly enjoyed every ones performances of course I should give special mention to the two leads Jason Kos (George) and Olivia Charalambous (Dot) for their wonderful performances.

The Painting

Esquisse d'ensemble, 1884–1885

Seurat was a leading figure in a sub genre of Impressionism called Neo-impressionism fitting as it was come in at the end of the impressionist era. One of the main techniques was to have 

are applied side-by-side with as little mixing as possible in thick quick strokes to quickly capture the subject. While Seurat did applies the colour in his pointillism technique that made use of the current knowledge of colour theory, it was definitely not quick. Actually it was quite painstaking process with the painting in question taking some 2 years and numerous studies such as the sketch on the right. Many of the others can be found here.

The painting of common scenes was nothing new in 1890 as they had been regularly appearing in paintings  since the 17th century Dutch painters.  What had changed was the composition of such paintings with the advent of the impressionist era, the compositions were loser resembling a snapshot, captured as if by chance. It is said that Seurat was often out sketching such candid moments much like the modern street photographer does today.

At the time of these paintings he was lorded for this new technique of painting however as with many things when you look back upon it now it is the number of social references in his work that Art historians prefer to talk about. Why do artests shy away from technical things instead looking for hidden (or maybe not so hidden) Freudian meanings that the work might convoy?

Une Baignade, Asnières, 1884

For the painting in question it is best viewed as a series with his first major work Bathers at Asnieres (left). The location of the painting is at one of the bathing areas in the commune of Courbevoie. On the opposite bank you can see the island of la Grande Jatte, the river is the Seine. It depicts the lower class bathing on the left hand side banks of the Seine, all looking to the right and appear static. We can see part of industrial Paris in the background. From the lack of women in the painting some art critics claim it must be a monday. 

In comparison when you view "Sunday Afternoon" it represents a high class get away for the Parisian community. Here the dream like characters are looking to the left edge of the frame and are sitting on the right hand side bank.

"Sunday Afternoon" also makes use of symbols. A monkey in French is known as “singesse,” denoting a prostitute. The two smartly dressed woman are fishing — but for what? And where is their chaperone? Is anyone who they appear to be here or are they all hiding behind facades built for polite society?

Then, as now, spectators have questioned Seurat’s meaning. Whether Seurat intended the Bathers and this painting to be considered as a pair is still debated; certainly he contrasts the natural world with the unpleasant artificiality of bourgeois life, as the artist saw it. Remember Seurat came from a well off family but ended up taking a mistress who was a model and had a 10 year romance with her. Surly he would know how the two worlds revolved around each other.

While we will never know for sure what Seurat was trying to say in these paintings we do know that he has quite the fondness for "Sunday Afternoon" due to it appearing in another of his pieces of work. 

Les Poseuses, 1888