georges seurat, a sunday afternoon on the island of la grande jatte
For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).
The essential meaning of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is far from clear. However art critics believe that it should be interpreted in comparison to its sister work Bathers at Asnieres. They believe that ‘La Jatte’ represents the French bourgeoisie, a decaying class that has fallen victim to lust and vice, and which is now in the shadows. In contrast, the sun is shining on the working class bathers of Asnieres, who represent the bright future of France.
Seurat himself told a sympathetic critic, Gustave Kahn, that his model was the Panathenaic procession in the Parthenon frieze. But Seurat didn’t want to paint ancient Athenians. He wanted ‘to make the moderns file past . in their essential form.’ By ‘moderns’ he meant nothing very complicated. He wanted ordinary people as his subject, and ordinary life. He was a bit of a democract—a “Communard,” as one of his friends remarked, referring to the left-wing revolutionaries of 1871; and he was fascinated by the way things distinct and different encountered each other: the city and the country, the farm and the factory, the bourgeois and the proletarian meeting at their edges in a sort of harmony of opposites. 
The painting and the life of its artist were the basis for the 1984 Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Subsequently, the painting is sometimes referred to by the misnomer “Sunday in the Park”.
“Confronting his subject,” Signac explained, “Seurat, before touching his little panel with paint, scrutinizes, compares, looks with half shut eyes at the play of light and shadow, observes contrasts, isolates reflections, plays for a long time with the cover of the box which serves as his palette, then . . . he slices from his little heap of colors arranged in the order of the spectrum the various colored elements which form the tint destined best to convey the mystery he has glimpsed. Execution follows on observation, stroke by stroke the panel is covered.”
Another optical trick evident in this painting is Seurat’s inclusion of an innovative painted “frame.” According to the Art Institute of Chicago, this Pointillist border is supposed to “make the experience of the painting even more intense” by adding even more colors, tones, and a textures to the composition.
Seurat’s use of this highly systematic and near-scientific technique  distinguished his art from the endlessly more intuitive approach to painting used by the Impressionists. Georges may have embraced the subject matter of modern life preferred by artists such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, but the way he depicted it on canvas couldn’t be any more different from the techniques of his peers.
Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was one of the stand-out works in the eighth and last Impressionist exhibition in 1884. When it was shown at the Sociéte des Artistes Indépendents  during the same year, it encouraged critic Félix Fénéon to invent the name Neo-Impressionism, a term that eventually became the name of one of the greatest movements in modern art  .
For children interested in taking drawing lessons, there are few better teachers than Mo Willems. The bestselling author and illustrator has been charming young readers for years with his Pigeon picture book series. Now, from the Kennedy Center, where he’s currently the artist-in-residence, Willems is hosting daily “Lunch Doodles” videos that viewers can take part in wherever they are. New lessons are posted to the Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel each weekday at 1:00 p.m. EST.
Forging the new style with this first-of-its-kind painting, Seurat became the father of Pointillism and of Neo-Impressionism. However, he preferred to call his technique “chromo-luminarism,” a term he felt better stressed its focus on color and light.