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Richard Rooker

Air France flight AF3577 out of JFK had been delayed,

so we were about half an hour behind schedule as we landed mid-afternoon at Orly International airport in Paris.  The flight was uneventful, and the first-class section let me catch up on some lost sleep.  In the belly of my Boeing 777 was a special cargo; a small original work of art for which I was engaged to negotiate its installation at the Louvre. Once I cleared customs with my crated baggage, I caught a taxi to the Hotel de la Jatte – Neuilly, a typical three-star tourist hotel.  My taxi ride from the airport took me past such iconic landmarks as Arch de Triomphe and the ever-present Eiffel Tower.  Knowing I was American, the cabby showed me a little more of the city than was necessary.  My hotel was located on Île de la Grand Jatte, an island in the middle of the Seine River that twists back and forth through Paris.  I checked into the hotel, took my baggage and crated treasure up to my room, and freshened up.  My business wasn’t scheduled until the next day, so I hit the streets to take in the local culture.  I headed along the river to Parc de L'Ile de la Jatte.  This park is what was left of the green space on the island and about a 4-block walk to the north of the Boulevard Bineau bridge to the end of the island.  It was the middle of the week, so the park was empty giving me a little solitude.  Sitting on a bench at the river’s edge, I contemplated the scene right here where I sat some 136 years ago on a Sunday afternoon as the famous post-impressionist painter Georges Seurat took in the scene for his famous work “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte”.  This work depicts middle-class Parisians strolling in an island park, presumably the very spot where I sat. In this work, Seurat gives modern-day figures a sense of significance and permanence by simplifying their forms and limiting their details; at the same time, his experimental brushwork and color combinations keeps the scene vivid and engaging.

Born in 1859 in Paris, Seurat died an early death of illness in 1891. To have accomplished as much as he did by the early age of 32 was truly remarkable.  Seurat studied right here in Paris at École des Beaux-Arts, the School of Fine Arts.  By the early 1880’s he had departed from the Impressionism movement in which he had been taught and developed a unique style of painting that came to be called Pointillism. Rather than blending colors together on his palette, he dabbed tiny strokes or "points" of pure color onto the canvas. When he placed colors side by side, they would appear to blend when viewed from a distance, producing luminous, shimmering color effects through "optical mixing."  When viewed from 6 inches away, there is only color, no shapes.  One must stand at a proper distance before “A Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte”, a large painting at over 10 feet by almost 7 feet, to enjoy the amazing application of color and the “optical” mixing that turns this painting into the masterpiece that it is.

One of the fun things I like to do is introduce young (and old) art enthusiasts to the Art Institute of Chicago.  An hour and a half train ride to downtown Chicago from Milwaukee’s Intermodal station and a 15 minute walk from Union Station to the Institute, I am your official escort on a day trip to experience the wonders of the Art Institute of Chicago, including such iconic works like Georges Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte”.  Give me a call or email if you have an interest!

"A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte": Georges Seurat 1884

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