Seurat showed works similar to The Lighthouse at Honfleur in 1886 at the eighth and last impressionist exhibition, an event that established him as a leading modernist. Based on new theories about optical characteristics of light and color, Seurat invented a technique called pointillism, or divisionism, as a scientifically objective form of impressionism. Seurat juxtaposed minute touches of unmixed pigments in hues corresponding to the perceived local color, the color of light, the complement of the local color for shadow, and reflected color of nearby areas, which in principle will combine visually when viewed from the proper distance. This meticulous technique, less random than impressionism, enabled Seurat to record appearances more accurately while preserving the fresh, natural qualities he admired in impressionist works.
Following the intensive studio campaign leading to the exhibition of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande-Jatte (Art Institute of Chicago), a controversial work also shown at the 1886 exhibition, Seurat spent the summer at Honfleur, a coastal resort near Le Havre. He relaxed by painting local landmarks such as the hospice and lighthouse in The Lighthouse at Honfleur. Balancing warm blond tones in the sand and lighthouse with cool blues in the sky and water and constructing a stable composition around the horizontals of the jetty and horizon crossed by the vertical tower, Seurat created a work of majestic serenity.
lower left: Seurat
From the artist 1887 to Emile Verhaeren, Paris. Curt von Mützenbecher, Wiesbaden, by 1907. (Bernheim-Jeune, Paris) from 1909 until 1913. Richard Goetz, Paris, from 1913; (Goetz sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 23 February 1922, no. 181); acquired from Goetz in June 1929 through (Dr. Alfred Gold [1874-1958]) by (César de Hauke, New York); on joint account from 1929 with (Alex Reid & Lefèvre, London) and (Jacques Seligmann et Cie., New York and Paris); sold 1934 via (Alex Reid & Lefevre, London) to Mrs. Alfred Chester Beatty [née Edith Dunn Stone, d. 1952], London; by inheritance to Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, London [d. 1968]. (Arthur Tooth and Sons, London); sold 1965 to Mr. Paul Mellon, Upperville, VA; gift 1983 to NGA.
- XVI Ausstellung der Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession Wien: Entwinklung des Impressionismus in Malerei u. Plastik, Vienna, 1903, no. 116.
- Manet and the Post-Impressionists, Grafton Galleries, London, 8 November 1910-15 January 1911, no. 55.
- First Loan Exhibition, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1929, no.60, repro.
- The Landscape in French Painting, M. Knoedler and Co., New York, 1931, no. 27, repro.
- Renoir - Cezanne and their Contemporaries, Alex. Reid and Lefevre, Ltd. (The Lefevre Galleries), London, 1934, no. 34, repro.
- French Paintings from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and Mrs. Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, no. 143, repro
- Post-Impressionism: Cross-Currents in European and American Painting 1880-1906, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980, no. 89, repro.
- Gifts to the Nation: Selected Acquisitions from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1986, unnumbered checklist
- The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986
- The Aura of Neo-Impressionism: The Holliday Collection, Indianapolis Museum of Art; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA, 1986-1987 [Atlanta only]
- Französische Impressionisten und ihre Wegbereiter aus der National Gallery of Art, Washington und dem Cincinnati Art Museum, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, 1990, no. 65, repro.
- Georges Seurat 1859-1891, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1991-1992,
- An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, no cat.
- Georges Seurat: The Drawings. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007, no. 121, repro.
- Georges Seurat: Figures in Space, Kunsthaus Zürich, 2009-2010, no. 57, repro.
- Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The National Art Center, Tokyo; Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 2011, no. 47, repro.
- Seurat - Master of Pointillism, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 2014, no. 439, repro.
- Bulliet, C. J. The Significant Moderns and Their Pictures. New York, 1936: repro. no. 24.
- Dorra, Henri, and John Rewald. Seurat, l'oeuvre peint, biographie et catalogue critique. Paris, 1959: no. 168, repro.
- Goldwater, Robert. "The Glory that was France." Art News 65 (March 1966): 85, repro. 48.
- Kuh, Katherine. "Golden Loans for a Silver Anniversary." Saturday Review (19 March 1966): repro. p. 49.
- Neugass, Fritz. "Jubiläumsschau in der National-Galerie in Washington." Weltkunst XXXVI, no. 8 (15 April 1966): 335, repro.
- Young, Mahonri Sharp. "The Mellon Collections: The Great Years of French Painting." Apollo 83 (June 1966): 433, repro. 430.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 512, no. 768, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 372, repro.
- Kennedy, Brian. "Sir Alfred Chester Beatty and the NGI." Irish Arts Review 4, no. 1 (1987):45, repro.
- Französische Impressionisten und ihre Wegbereiter aus der National Gallery of Art, Washington und dem Cincinnati Art Museum, Exh. cat. Neue Pinakothek, Munich, 1990: no. 65, repro.
- Grenier, Catherine. Seurat: Catalogue complet des peintures. Paris, 1991: no. 177, repro.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 277, 279, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 197, repro.
- Zimmermann, Michael F. "Die 'Erfindung' Pieros und seine Wahlverwandtschaft mit Seurat." Studies in the History of Art 48 (1995): 286-287, repro. no. 13.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 392-393, no. 327, color repro.
- Kelly, Franklin. "A Lasting Legacy: The Completion of an Unparalleled Gift." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 51 (Fall 2014): 10-11, repro.