The Art Angle Podcast: The Pleasures and Paradoxes of Seurat’s Iconic ‘Sunday Afternoon’

This week, we delve into an iconic image of summertime leisure.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884–86). Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.
Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884–86). Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.


In John Hughes’s classic 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the cohort of truant teenagers make a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, and spend some time with the classic painting by George Seurat, titled Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. One of the most famous artworks in the world even before that star turn, it has been studied and referenced and riffed on endlessly, and is in fact the subject of at least one musical, and a whole host of academic articles.

Painted in 1884 when Seurat was just 27 years old in his self-created pointillist style, the large canvas depicts an idle summer afternoon on an island in the middle of the river Seine, with multiple fashionably dressed figures glimpsed out and about enjoying a day of socializing and relaxing by the water.

Artnet’s Katie White is the creator and frequent scribe of a popular art history column for the site called “Three Things,” where she revisits well-known works of art and offers new ways to look at them. Her article on Seurat’s La Grande Jatte has been one of the most popular editions of that column, where she dives into the research about the painting’s inspirations and explores some of the unexpected debates about the meaning of this classic image of summer leisure.

As we near the end of the summer season, we thought we’d all take a small (virtual) vacation from the news churn, and take a day trip to visit a favorite work of art from the past. This week, Katie speaks to Artnet’s chief art critic Ben Davis about this celebrated work of art.



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