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George Seurat’s afternoon on an island


CHICAGO- What’s in a name? I expect its originator could explain. Do art collectors or curators have final edit over a famous painting’s title? I can understand the Art Institute of Chicago nicknaming its familiar La Grande Jatte, but the first paragraph of the painting’s gallery description has to explain that the iconic riverbank scene is named not for a tributary, but an island on the river Seine, because their slimmed translation of its full title now reads “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” à la Sunday in the Park with George. Gone are afternoon and island from Un dimanche après-midi sur l’Île de la Grande Jatte –you wonder why bother to keep “la”? I remember the original full English title from art history textbooks, whose color plates now seem like a greatest hits album of the Art Institute’s collection. Did Chicago corner the market on Impressionist masterpieces, or did their image licenses determine which we’re taught are representative? Reframing painting titles suggests to me there’s more likelihood of the latter. Does great art jump out at you intuitively? I doubt we even know what we like.

The above detail is not Seurat, but Gustave Caillebotte’s Rainy Day in Paris and illustrates the difference it makes to see a painting in a gallery. High Def. Hopper’s Night Hawks is just as stark in actual size, but Caillebotte’s wet Parisenne has a lace veil which you’d never have noticed on a print.

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