Georges Seurat

Georges (Georges-Pierre) Seurat, 1859-1891, French

 

The artist died at 31 of the same illness which killed his only child, an infant son, not long after he died. 

 

 

He had the fortune, at the age of 25, to have his work reviewed by and become a passion of the famous and notorious art critic, iconoclast, dandy and anarchist, Félix Fénéon, 1861-1944, who survived the artist by more than a half-century.

 

 

 

Félix Fénéon at La Revue Blanche in 1896. 

Félix Vallotton, 1865-1925, oil on cardboard.  Private collection on loan to MOMA, NY in 2020

 

 

Fénéon promoted Seurat’s work, collected a significant number of paintings and drawings himself; and made a fastidious inventory of the hundreds of works which the artist left. Fénéon organized exhibitions and sales. 

 

 

 

Opus 217: Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, And Tints.  Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890; oil on canvas, 1890.

  Paul Signac, 1863-1935, French.  MOMA, NY. 

The complicated name of the painting was to poke fun at the verbosity of a particular French color theorist.

 

 

 

Félix Fénéon provided the intellectual argument for the modernism of pointillism for which he coined the term ‘Neo-Impressionism’.

 

 

 

seuratEmbroidery; the Artist’s Mother, 1882-1883, Conté crayon on Michallet paper. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

Portrait of Edmond Francois Aman-Jean, 1882, Conté crayon on Michallet paper. 

This portrait of a childhood friend is the first work which the artist exhibited publicly.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

Man in a Bowler Hat, 1883, Conté crayon on paper.

Private collection on loan to MOMA, NY in 2020

 

 

 

At Dusk, 1882-1883, Conté crayon on paper.  Private collection on loan to MOMA, NY in 2020, with light interference

 

 

 

Place de la Concorde in Winter, 1882-1883, Conté crayon on paper. 

Private collection on loan to MOMA, NY in 2020

 

 

 

 

Young Peasant in Blue, 1882, oil on canvas. 

Musée d’Orsay on loan to MOMA, NY in 2020

 

 

 

Below, no bigger than an I-Pad, and just as beautifully made:  a Seurat painting, oil on wood, 1890 of Moored Boats and Trees in the pointiliste technique. 

Seurat’s paintings seem always to be still, poised, not a hair out of place.

 

 

 

 

Moored Boats and Trees, Georges Seurat, 1890 PMA-1

Moored Boats and Trees, 1890, oil on canvas. 

Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

 

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Study for ‘La Grande Jatte’, oil on wood, 1884/85. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

Here the last painting Seurat did in preparation for  A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, now in the Chicago Art Institute.

 

 

 

 

The last study for Afternoon at La Grande Jatte, oil on canvas, 1886-88, MOMA, NY

 

 

 

A small painting which was a study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884. 

Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

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Poseuses and detail, 1887-88, oil on canvas: a miniature version of a painting at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

Private loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the spring of 2017. 

La Grande Jatte is the painting sitting on the floor against the left wall.

 

 

 

 

These three tiny images – a little smaller than an I-phone –  oil on wood, were painted in 1886 and 1887.  Loaned by the Musée d’Orsay to MOMA, NY in 2020.

MOMA notes that Fénéon owned these three images and took them with him, covered in velvet, in his his waistcoat when he left Paris.  He considered them ‘a miracle of art’.

 

 

 

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Study for Poseuses,Conté crayon on paper, 1886-87. 

Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum, NY

 

 

Les Poseuses, 1886-1888, oil on canvas.  From the site of the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

 

 

 

Les Poseuses above the heads of visitors in the central hall of the ground floor of the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. 

The paintings were rehung in the immutable position chosen by Dr. Barnes as a condition of the breaking of his will for the transfer of the collection to a central site in Philadelphia.

 

 

The stillness of Seurat’s paintings undoubtedly was a function of his technique which involved the use of colour to create harmony, a primary aim of Matisse, also, whom Fénéon also championed.

 

And of his temperament: he was said to be very sensitive and also precise, with a passion for mathematics.  

 

 

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Seascape (Gravelines), oil on wood, 1882. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

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The Channel at Gravelines, 1890, oil on canvas, 1890.

MOMA, NY

 

 

 

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Bathers (Study for Bathers at Asnieres), oil on wood. 1883/84. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

DSC04492The Watering Can – Garden at Le Raincy, oil on wood. 1883. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

 

 

 

 

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Seurat, Grand Camp, Evening, 1885, MOMA-1

Evening, Honfleur, 1886. Oil on canvas. 

MOMA, NY

 

 

 

I can always be corrected but it seems that the French had had, by the time of Seurat’s work one hundred years to work out in the governance of France the vast, contested, legacy of the French Revolution of 1789 and of the three  upsurges of revolutionary activity which followed of which the Commune of Paris of 1871 was the last.

 

 

Their civilization was flush with the gains of their colonial empire, still ascendant; and of slavery even if this institution had been abolished. 

 

The Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) was done, the loss of Alsace-Lorraine remaining an open wound.  The Dreyfus Affair (1891) had not yet come to blow apart the French elites.   A fourth pillar of the ideals of French governance, ‘Laïcité’ (agreement on State neutrality towards religious institutions, added to ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité in 1905)  was almost a generation away;  and patriarchy was still in vigorous, uncontested flush.

World War 1 was not even a whisper. 

 

It seems that it was in this rare oasis of peaceful stability that Seurat worked, lived and died. 

 

 

 

Seurat, Gray Weather, Grande Jatte, 1886-88-1

Seurat, Gray Weather, Grande Jatte, 1886-88-2

Gray weather, Grand Jatte, oil on canvas, 1886-1888.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

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Preparatory Sketch for the Painting ‘La Greve du Bas-Butin, Honfleur, 1886, oil on panel.  

Baltimore Museum of Art

 

 

 

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The Ladies’ Man, 1890, oil on panel. 

The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

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Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, and detail,  Normandy, oil on canvas,  1888.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

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Peasant with a Hoe and detail, 1882, oil on canvas. 

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

 

 

 

 

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Farm Women at Work, 1882-83; oil on canvas. 

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

 

 

 

The Mower, 1881-1882,oil on wood. 

Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

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Detail of Peasant Woman Seated On the Grass, 1883, oil on canvas. 

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY

 

 

 

These paintings of a contented bourgeoisie and of workers at work apparently peaceably, of the calm of an evening and of boats at rest are poignant given the present disquiet in all our democracies.

 

 

 

Circus Paintings and Drawings

 

 

 

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Circus Side Show and details, 1887-88, oil on canvas.

  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

This magnificently staged and elegant painting, full of the Seurat stillness despite the undoubtedly lively setting, is a representation of Corvi’s travelling circus.  It was met with a negative reception at the Salon des Independents in 1888 because of its pointillist technique.

The artist never discussed this painting and effaced his signature after the exhibition by adding to the decorative elements at the edge.

This painting, taken to MOMA’s inaugural show in New York in 1929, was later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and may not have seen France again. 

 

 

 

Between 1886 and 1888, the artist made a number of drawings in connection with his Circus Side Show.

 

 

 

 

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At the Divan Japonais, 1887-88; Conté crayon on paper.

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

 

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High C (Forte Chanteuse), 1887-88;  Conté crayon and white gouache on paper. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

 

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At the Gaite Rochechouart.

Conté crayon with gouache on paper.  Rhode Island School of Design on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2016/17

 

 

When you look at this artist’s work, there appears to be a light veil over it. 

It is as though you were looking at the work through a scrim: at a slight distance.  And that the figures are beginning to recede into the background.

 

 

 

 

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At the Concert European.  Conté crayon and gouache on paper.

 MOMA, NY on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17 (with light interference)

 

 

 

This may be the effect of the time that has passed between the artist’s death and our time: the clothing which we no longer wear; the passing of the old agricultural world and of the circuses which have all but gone from our world.

 

 

 

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At the Concert Parisien. Conté crayon and white chalk on paper. 

Cleveland Museum of Art on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

 

But it could be that the distance is the consequence of the pointilliste technique. 

Figures, shapes and colours are clearly visible but the unstable mass of coloured dots and smudges, individually muted as they are in the paintings, and the ridging in the drawings suggest that what we are seeing is contingent. 

 

 

 

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Dancer with a Cane. Conté crayon on paper. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

Contingent on everything remaining exactly as it was in the moment which the artist memorialized;

 

on nobody moving; on the light not shifting; the rain not coming and the sun not setting, on no change of any kind.

In other words, the artist has captured an impression of one moment only and does not want your attention focused before or after in time.

 

 

 

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Eden Concert.Conté crayon, gouache, chalk and ink on paper.

  Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17 (with light interference)

 

 

 

We know that in the next second enough will have changed so that we have a new impression floating in our eyes.

 

 

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Ferdinand Corvi and pony. Conté crayon on paper. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17, with light interference

 

 

 

The scrim effect, then, may be simply a technique to distance the viewer from any idea of solidity or stability in the scene painted. 

 

The scenes are not solid as they would be in a Cézanne

 or in a landscape painting. But they are not in flux either.

 

The scrim effect is holding these forms – people, skies, boats, water – in a transparent grid. 

Momentarily still.  An impression of one moment in a day or on an evening.  

 

 

 

Trombonist; Conté crayon with white chalk on paper. 

Philadelphia Museum of Art on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17 (with light interference)

 

 

 

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The Tree; Conté crayon on paper. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

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Two Clowns (Une Parade); Conté crayon on paper. 

Fine Art Museums of San Francisco on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

 

 

Pierrot and Colombine; Conté crayon on paper.

  Kasama Nichido Museum of Art on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

 

The Saltimbanque.  Conte crayon on paper.

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016/17

 

 

 

Seurat passed like a meteor in the night sky because the gods loved him and took him. 

But he left these snapshots of his life, worked out meticulously and distilled drop by drop into tableaux 

 

projected, one scene after another, on a museum wall. 

 

Your mind does go on to impose a second scrim between you and these works to evade the effects of a hovering sadness for the lost work of Seurat’s maturity.

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Georges Seurat

  1. Thank you for rich choices and commentary on this painter of mysterious – almost mystical – vision and execution. Your use of the word “scrim” is distinctly apt and helpful in describing how the canvas communicates itself – often as if through a veil.

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