Standing on the Sacred Ground of an Artistic Landmark

It was surreal and serene and incomprehensible and utterly delightful and a time-stands-still moment in my life that I shall never forget.

My milestone birthday trip to London and Paris with Rich was filled with countless memories and sheer moments of pleasure. I wasn’t prepared for a trip to a small island north of Paris to be one of those moments. In fact, I wasn’t even sure we would find the place. But Rich, more determined than I, as this was a sort of mission for him, charted the path and led the way as we continued our exploration of the Paris Metro and made our way up to the island of La Grande Jatte.

The name may be familiar to you. It wasn’t immediately familiar to me before our journey. Until Rich reminded me of the name of one of his favorite, and one of history’s most well-known and most loved works of art: Georges Seurat’s “An Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte.” You may not think you know the piece, but I feel pretty confident in saying that you probably do. Most people who have had some level of higher education and some modicum of cultural awareness have seen this work of art. And once you see it, you’ll probably say, as I did, “Oh, that!

Georges Seurat’s “An Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte”

Oh, that. “That” is, to be sure, a masterpiece; a legendary work that has defined the impressionistic style for many art novices.

Georges Seurat

For the musical theatre inclined, it is a work that has inspired the brilliant musical by Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Our mission on this gorgeous early May day in Paris was to find the island where the artist painted his masterpiece; to find the very spot in the park where the ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls and pets stood and played and rested and dreamed, all regaled in their brightly colored attire with parasols and top hats, all standing in poses that are indelibly and eternally etched in the minds of people from Paris to New Rochelle. We found the spot, after quite a long walk upon exiting the Metro. Thank you, triple-A guidebook. Thank you, iPhone and Google maps.

When we arrived, the small island could not have been less assuming or more inconspicuous.

Lovely enough park… but nothing out of the ordinary. Could this be the fertile ground for such a masterpiece?

A small group of children were there, having playtime on the grass and giggling at the American tourists. We walked the circumference of the park, looking for what would appear to be any sign of the legendary site where the artist captured the day on his easel. Finally, we found a modest, almost hidden placard noting that this was the spot where the artist created his work. No fanfare, no other spectators, very little in the way of memorializing this sacred ground.

The small, nondescript sign indicating that this indeed is the spot where art was created

But we slowly began to get a sense for the landscape and where the ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls may have been posed on that sunny afternoon, back in a time when this island was clearly more vibrant and appreciated than it is today.

We slowly started to imagine how this bank might have appeared in the late 1800s…
a bit less dense, more well-cared for, a lot more populated

There was something magical about the place, as unassuming and relatively unimpressive as it is today. To think that this was the very spot that inspired a great artist to compose one of his greatest works, which in turn inspired a great Broadway composer to create one of his own greatest works… I was struck by the endless cycle of creativity, and how earlier generations can so remarkably inspire future generations to create such magnificent works of art.

Standing on sacred ground — humbling, inspiring, entirely satisfying
Brilliantly colored flowering plants overlooking the island — art & beauty are always within reach

We stayed a while on La Grande Jatte, eating our loaf of French bread with cheese and enjoying a bottle of cheap French wine on the bank of the river where Georges painted, where children played, where ladies stood under their parasols. We allowed the moment to sink in. I thanked Rich (not enough in hindsight) for suggesting this journey and leading us to the island… and for giving us one of the greatest moments and memories of our trip.

It is so seldom in life that we are able to stand on sacred ground, where something of such substance and enduring value was created. Time marches on. The land changes, the scenery evolves, but the sense of place remains undeniably strong… forever sealed as sacred ground by the inspired genius and stroke of an artist’s brush.

Originally published at on October 17, 2015.