Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon


Which recording best relates to this painting?  What types of relationships between the music and art do you experience with each recording?

Milhaud, Le Boed sur le Toit

Debussy, Voiles


11 thoughts on “Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon

  1. In my opinion, Milhaud’s “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” better worked better as a companion to this painting because it developed my thoughts more while I looked at the painting than the Debussy did. When I first studied the Seurat without audio, I already recognized that the scene seemed to portray a fairly relaxed afternoon of people, mostly adults, watching a river. When the painting is paired with Debussy’s “Voiles,” I mostly only notice this calmness and I spend much time looking at the water. Part of this might be that I know that the title of the piece means “Sails,” so this fact skews my thoughts. However, the quietness and gentle flow also mimics movement of water while the repetitive descending scales are reminiscent of the sloping hill. In all, the Debussy did not reveal anything about the painting that I did not already recognize and it brought my attention to a relatively insignificant part of the image.

    However, when I listened to Milhaud’s piece, I became more aware of the commentary on class that is present in this painting. I noticed that almost every person represented (possibly excluding the man reclining in the left foreground) appears to be wealthy and coming to the river and watching boats pass, though possibly not what the people want to do, is what is “right” in the eyes of this society. However, clashing harmonies mixed throughout the Milhaud makes us as viewers realize that perhaps everything is not quite right in this society. Minor sections throughout the piece bring my eyes to the young girl dressed in white walking toward us and make me think that perhaps she, a representation of innocence in a sea of red-clad adults, is being forced into a restrictive, uppity society.

  2. Carson Weingart says:

    As I mentioned in class, I felt that the Milhaud represented more of an overview of the painting, while the Debussy caused me to focus on more of the details. During the Debussy, with its haunting whole-tone scales, I felt myself searching for someone in the painting who perhaps exhibited a sense of melancholy or unease. I then focused on the gentleman in the hat and realized that he seemed to be pondering something, and the music supported his thoughts.

    It would be very interesting to find out the context behind the painting, in order to understand what Seurat’s intentions were for painting the scene. If, for instance, he meant to portray a calm setting before an approaching storm or a tragedy of some sort, than the Debussy would be appropriate. It would cause me as the viewer to hesitate, and think about the painting in a context other than that of a museum observer. If Seurat’s intention were simply to portray an afternoon of merriment, than the Milhaud seems much more appropriate. We must remember that many museum spectators are there to “enjoy” the art. This context and predisposition makes it difficult for many to appreciate the more thoughtful and perhaps darker emotions of the works, unless someone (or some piece of music) can guide their interpretation. As someone who knows considerably less about the visual arts than I do about music, it is helpful to rely on a piece of music to guide my understanding of the painting.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    Claude Debussy’s Voiles best captures the meaning of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Debussy’s use of foreboding drones creates the sense of a drifting, disturbing and meditative atmosphere. There are contrasting light and dark elements in both the music and painting. Flourishes in the higher registers of the piano appear to capture the playful twirling girl and the mischievous animals in the painting. Dark swelling motives appear throughout the work to create an eerie feeling that draws my attention to the use of light and shadow in this painting. There is an undercurrent feeling of inner struggle seen through the stiff posture in which the people hold themselves and the shadows that envelop them. The rigidity in which the Parisians carry themselves also impresses upon me the importance of upper social class. The twirling girl and animals in the painting seem to be the ones left in possession of an inner freedom from social constraints.
    In comparison, Darius Milhaud’s Le Boef sur le Toit correlates to the outer appearance of the social scene. Milhaud’s music draws my attention to question the thoughts of the men and women in the painting. The interjecting woodwinds draw my focus to the activities of the twirling girl, the two dogs and the monkey, which appear unfitting to the daintiness of this upper class setting.

  4. While listening to the two selected pieces, I found that it made me see the painting in two completely different lights. Debussy presented the painting as if everything was moving in slow motion. My eyes were drawn to the sails in the background. This is interesting, as there are several events that are occurring on land. I feel that the sails are much more relaxing, which explains why my eyes went there.

    Milhaud, however, brought the painting to life. My eyes did not rest in one particular area, but scattered from person to person. I was interested in what everyone in the painting was doing. The music draws energy into the painting, and also gives it more light. Therefore, I believe it is safe to say, that Milhaud fits the painting better in many senses.

  5. My perception of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon changed when listening to Debussy’s Voiles and Milhaud’s Le Boed sur le Toit. Debussy’s Voiles uses a lot of techniques to create a certain atmosphere. For example, descending and ascending parallel motion is used. The parallel movement is very slow and it inhibits movement in the painting. The lack of movement made me focus my attention to the first five people in the foreground. I noticed the stoicism on their faces. It made my question what the characters were thinking and where they were looking.

    In contrast, Milhaud’s Le Boed sur le Toit is a very lively piece. My attention was drawn to the background of the painting. I discovered the different movement that occurs in the background. I saw the movement of the sails in the water and of the little girl in red playing. The movement gave me the impression of this scene being a moment in time. The piece also created more vibrancy in the colors. I began to see all the red that different people are wearing. I observed the contrast of this to the green grass and the people in the foreground wearing dark colors. I believe that Milhaud’s Le Boed sur le Toit fits the painting better. The music makes the art feel like a fleeting moment in time, or like a photograph. In my opinion, that was what Seurat was trying to capture by painting A Sunday Afternoon.

  6. Goodwin78 says:

    The Debussy made me see the contrasts in the light and dark colors more clearly. The dancing girl in the background popped out in a way that I could almost see her in motion. I also saw the relationships between groups of people in the painting, in terms of distribution, as somewhat rhythmic.

    The Milhaud made the painting seem much more active to me. I could see the motion in the spectators. This time the boats caught my eye, and I could sense their motion just like with the people in the crowd.

  7. Lauren Walker says:

    The Seurat painting above is subtle, serene, and lovely. It reveals just what one might expect to see on a lazy upper-class Sunday afternoon at the lake in the late nineteenth century. When Debussy’s Voiles accompanies the painting, it lends a depth and mystery to the work. The stillness of the painting becomes evident as the slow plodding of the pedal base continues. The whole-tone scale motifs and wave-like octave leaps utilized by Debussy emphasize the open space of the lake, drawing attention to the waters. The gazes of the adults in the foreground, particularly the man lying in the grass to the left and the woman standing foremost on the right, are drawn towards this lake. Though the day is bright and cheery, the music suggests brooding and restless minds, unable to appreciate the simple beauty of the moment. When coupled with Debussy’s Voiles, the painting seems veiled by a dreamy fog that is soothing but also slightly disturbing, as though the serenity veils something deeper that no one is willing to address. The children in the picture are easily overlooked in light of this mysterious fog hovering over the minds of the adults. This foggy quality accentuated by Debussy’s Voiles is affirmed by Seurat’s unusual use of lighting in the painting. Instead of letting the foreground shine with light and darkening the background as is often done, Seurat chooses to shoot light into the further recesses of the landscape, while suppressing the foreground in shadow. This technique of lighting further emphasizes the mysterious and important thoughts of the foremost man and woman, whose eyes are the only ones evident in the painting.

  8. The Debussy made me focus in on darkness in this work of art. Suddenly, with the contemplative soundtrack, the shadows and the blacks emerge. Every expression and posture is questioned, because many of these people look far from normal or comfortable. What are they all looking at? The adults seem more concerned than the children or animals. Is a boat sinking? No, that isn’t right. This is why I think the Milhaud is a much better match. There is really no reason to be suspicious. These people are uncomfortable by choice in their fashionable girdles and whatever the woman in the foreground is wearing to produce that magnificent posterior shelf. The Milhaud makes this a much brighter occasion, with the people in motion and jovial stances becoming the focuses and the shadows becoming just shadows. You can feel the sun now, its warming rays explaining why so many seek the shade. The wind pushing at the sails of the boats drifts across your cheek. It is with this piece that the children are laughing and dancing. The women are smiling. It becomes an all-around more pleasant experience for me.

  9. When listening to the Milhaud piece while looking at the painting, I feel as though the music sets the scene for an extravagant event put on by the upper class of Paris. They have all come to the park for a day away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and anyone who is someone is there. The upbeat tempo of Le Boed sur le Toit causes my eye to jump around from person to person, and allows me to imagine the young girl in the red dress is dancing along to the music. Milhaud’s piece makes the overall theme of the painting becomes cheerful and full of excitement.
    The Deubussy’s track is much more somber than Milhaud, casting a different tone over the painting. I find myself lingering on individuals within the painting, observing them with much more intensity. I also begin to notice the contrast between the dark colors of the people in the foreground compared to the bright and playful colors in the background. The figures appear to be in a state of static leisure almost as if they have become entranced by whatever it is they are so intently observing.

  10. I feel that the Debussy fits image better than the Milhaud. The music creates a fuzzy mental image, much like the painting style Seurat utilizes is both detailed and blurry. The music also reinforces the feeling of a moment trapped in time that I experience when viewing the painting. The people depicted seem as though they are not in a rush and don’t have a care in the world. I also notice the darker colors more readily than the characters in the sunlight. My eyes are also drawn to the boats on the water; again, I believe that the image is frozen in time, since the water seems glassy and wave-less.

    The work by Milhaud gives me a completely different view of the painting. I suddenly noticed the reds present in the painting. I also see motion throughout the picture, and my eyes travel from person to person as if I am reliving a memory. It seems as though each person is doing something, like the girl dancing, a man clapping, and the man and woman conversing in the distance. Even though this seems more realistic and relatable to a personal memory, I still feel that the Debussy reinforce my feelings when viewing the painting.

  11. I feel that each piece produces highly contrasting emotions within the viewer as they would look at this Seurat. The Milhaud brings more life and action to the painting. The odd harmonies within the woodwinds and playful lines within the brass, cause my eyes to wander more rapidly about the painting. I also imagine this scene as party when listening to the Milhaud, with people moving and bustling about, and groups interacting with each other. As far as color goes, I notice all of the red within the picture how the sunlight brightens up the shore.

    Personally I prefer the Debussy when viewing this painting. Instead of an action scene, it provokes a more calming mood. Now instead of people quickly moving about, they seem to be relaxing and taking their time as they stroll along the shore. Instead of constantly looking around the painting, I now tend to focus on three areas: the people resting under the shade of the tree in the front of the picture, the little girl in the white dress, and the water in the background.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s