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'A Sunday afternoon on La Grande Jatte', Georges Seurat, 1884

The trombonist will blow unnoticed. Much is absurd:

a monkey, women in bustles, the brass player.

The bourgeoisie reflects in post-prandial

tranquillity… Purges, coronations in Paris,

the metropolis of revolution, where Haussman’s

boulevards were an imperial stockade…

For two sous, the ferry transports Georges Seurat

across the Seine to the Ile de La Grande Jatte. Two years’

preparation, observation of colour, shape,

application of theory delineate an

historical moment, which never occurred.

In shade, a man with a clay pipe reclines, so self-

absorbed he breathes – like the infantry officers

striding this way. The vistas of shadows, sunlight,

water – each coruscating perspective – catch

the city’s portentous murmur… On the Champ de Mars,

Dreyfus is humiliated – in the Place de Grève,

Marie Antoinette… Northward, Prussian howitzers

position. From the Vélodrome d’ Hiver, the Jews

are leaving for Birkenau. Against the high wall

of Pêre Lachaise, the remnant of the Communards

is shot. The citizens are culled in this city

of bloody principle and virtuous

mayhem – thousands in La Semaine Sanglante…

He was of his epoch: diligent, self-

regarding, a scion of the bourgeoisie –

mistress and son secreted in Montmartre.

He conjugated art with science, measured

the golden mean by the chemistry of colour.

He died young of a weakened heart and was buried

in Pêre Lachaise. Light records nothing. Only words

describe past as history. Lozenges of paint

are ignorant of irony, are the colour

of time. One late and sunlit afternoon, a child

follows a butterfly into oblivion.




© Copyright David Selzer
1 Response
  • John Huddart
    February 15, 2011

    The door into the darkside of any lazy Sunday afternoon, and a counterbalance to the stylish poise of Seurat. As you say – Light Records Nothing!

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