Seurat's use of short, unblended, strongly coloured brushstrokes has created a vivid and vibrant work. As a landscape there is really only an empty space – a field of alfalfa and poppies – instead of a picturesque idyll.
This is part of the broad empty plain, which in the nineteenth century, still separated Paris from Saint-Denis (now a northern suburb of the capital). Seurat knew this land was under threat of development for factories or housing as Paris expanded and developers took their opportunities.
The artist’s choice of this empty scene allows our attention to be drawn to his new vision and radical technique of pointillism. This utopian painting style hints at the possibilities for a harmonious society based on a scientific vision and mutual aid - just like the dots in his picture add up to a better whole.
We have selected this landscape painting for the Parallel Lives 2 project because of its resonance for those who live in West Edinburgh. This painting will inspire the participants to question their own social and geographical landscapes. Find out more about Seurat's La Luzerne, Saint-Denis, (1885) in our Online Collection.
The participants in group 2 are from the West of Edinburgh. They are keenly aware of the transformations in the local area, in particular the Wester Hailes housing scheme built in the late 1960s (at the time one of the largest in Scotland). This area has been through many changes but has seen its residents make active attempts to improve its amenities and their lives.
November 2008 A digital copy of Seurat’s painting was merged with a new photograph, looking across a wheat field towards Wester Hailles from Riccarton. A digital mosaic of this composite image, using the thousands of photographs submitted by members of the public was then produced and animated and projected into a gilt frame. The new work, A Field of Wheat before Wester Hailes, Edinburgh is currently on display in A6 of the National Gallery of Scotland.
July 2008 Working with photographer/artist Craig Maclean, the Group 2 participants conducted an in-depth investigation into the project’s themes. So far the group has taken part in energetic discussions about landscape painting at the National Gallery, the photographic collection at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and the Collage City exhibition at the Dean Gallery.
The group have also enjoyed digital photography fieldtrips to explore Edinburgh Park, the Westburn allotments and landscapes looking back to Wester Hailes from Riccarton. A framed reproduction of the Seurat painting is to be toured around Wester Hailes by the group to elicit responses from the wider community as to its meaning.
The participants were keen that their final artwork will convey what it is like to live in this part of Edinburgh, which has been at the cutting edge of urban development for over thirty years. They took photographs and collected images of the area from local residents to help form a digital landscape image of the area which represents as many individuals from the community as possible.
West Edinburgh residents could add an image of themselves or of the local community, by emailing or attending the photo-booth sessions at WHALE.