“From Imitation to Evolution”: Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen on Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884

Georges Seurat’s masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, is the kind of painting that has become so ubiquitous it almost disappears into itself, but within this busy scene of stulted human interaction lie many clues to the transformations of the period. For one, this picture manifests shifts in thinking from imitation to civilization and from mimesis to evolution, insofar as it encapsulates Darwin’s theories of natural selection and their ramifications for the understanding of human psychology at the time.


Recorded on December 15, 2021.

Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen

Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen is the associate director of the Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art at the Clark Art Institute. She specializes in modern art and cultural history, primarily in Europe. Relations between modern art and modern sciences of the human subject are a guiding preoccupation of her teaching and research. Broad areas of interest include the history of art history and archaeology, the history of art criticism, philosophical and scientific theories of the aesthetic, archaism and primitivisms, interactions between the visual and performing arts, the history of dance and early film, theories of gesture and corporeal expression, and the history of biology, psychology and psychoanalysis, especially with reference to the history of sexuality. Her first book, Modern Art and the Remaking of Human Disposition, was published by University of Chicago Press in November 2021.