Dystopic​ Sunday

The negative foil to Manet’s Déjeneur sur I’herbe, or rather its mood of gaiety gone sour, is embodied in Seurat’s promenade piece: Un Dimanche à la Grande-Jatte. This picture is one single mosaic of boredom, a masterful rendering of the disappointed longing and the incongruities of a dolce far niente. The painting depicts a middle-class Sunday morning [sic] on an island in the Seine near Paris, and that is just the point: it depicts this merely with scorn. Empty-faced people rest in the foreground; most of the others have been grouped into Wooden verticals like dolls from the toy box, intensely involved in a stiff little walk. Behind them is the pale river with sailboats, a sculling match, sightseeing boats-a background that, despite the recreation going on there, seems to belong more to Hades than to a Sunday. A great load of joyless leisure is in the image, in the bright matt glare of its atmosphere and in the expressionless Water of the Sunday Seine, the object of an equally expressionless contemplation… As the workaday World recedes, so does every other world, everything, recede into watery torpidness. The result is endless boredom, the little man’s hellish utopia of skirting the Sabbath and holding onto it too; his Sunday succeeds only as a bothersome must, not as a brief taste of the Promised Land. Middle-class Sunday afternoons like these are landscapes of painted suicide which do not come off [even at that] because it lacks resolve. In short, this dolce far niente, if it is conscious at all, has the consciousness of an absolute non-Sunday in what remains of a Sunday utopia?

Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope (1954)

Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884)


Paul Signac, In the Time of Harmony: The Golden Age Is Not in the Past, It Is in the Future. (1895)

Paul Signac was a Seurat’s friend and follower. Notice how where Seurat paints isolated characters in the urban context, his friend draws compositive relationships that links his characters with his common activity in the countryside. This isolation of urban life is a line of reflection of those that work in urban landscapes.