|One of the projects done in workshop
Everyone seemed to get a good chance to see and understand my demonstrations. No one had to bring anything because I supplied the materials and even lunch and best of all, we had a lovely break in my back garden. I appreciate the support of those who attended and hope to see more of everyone in future ones I will be holding. Now on to Georges Seurat...
Seurat: A life cut too short
|George Seurat 1888
Coming from a privileged background, Seurat never had to worry about money. He received a monthly allowance of 400 francs while most workers were only making 150 francs. Born in Paris in 1859, Seurat seldom left the city except to go to the coast or once to exhibit in Holland with the Group X. He was a dabber-looking man, always dressed to the hilt with top hat, gloves and such. Degas even dubbed him, "the notary" because of his attire.
Seurat was a very quiet and secretive man. He was bit of an enigma When he was with a
|A Woman Powdering Herself 1889
Oil on canvas,Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK
Believed to be Seurat's mistress
Beyond his style of dress and personality quirks, Seurat was a serious painter. Unlike the Impressionists who created completed paintings en plein air (outside), he produced his work in his studio--working from studies that he created en plein air. He had been classically trained first at Ecole Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin (school of sculpture and drawing) and then at École des Beaux-Arts. After completing his military service in 1880, he worked for two years on monochromatic drawing, using Conté crayon--a square drawing medium made up of powdered graphite or charcoal with a waxy base.
|Embrodering (portrait of Mother) 1882-3
Conté crayon on paper
His friend and fellow artist, Paul Signac described Georges Seurat's Conté crayon drawings as "the most beautiful painter's drawings that ever existed."
They are certainly incredible and to spend two years working on such a task is daunting in itself. However, what a great way to learn light and shadow, form, composition. And when you don't really have to worry about making a living, it seems easier to learn, experiment and grow.
The drawing of his mother shows his great care to save the white of the paper, but also to create the darkest dark. I enjoy how he pours light over her hair and somewhat in the background and her hands.
The method used is what's called tonal drawing. Instead of relying strictly on the line, he created a drawing with the juxtaposition of light and shadow. This was not something new, just something not used very often, even today. Leonard Da Vinci practiced this method and even encouraged it, when he wrote: "The end of any color is only the beginning of another, and it ought not to be called a line, for nothing interposes between them, except the termination of the one against the other, which being nothing in itself, cannot be perceivable.”
|The Drawbridge 1882-83
All of this time spend on monochromatic work paid off as he graduated more and more into color. His first major work was Bathers at Asnières. A monumental piece measuring 201 cm × 300 cm (around 6.5 feet by 9 feet), Bathers was completed in his studio from studies, both with Conté crayon and oils. Here is the bather in a tonal study, while the shoreline populated with subjects is in oil.
|Tonal drawing of boy calling out
|Final study in 1883
|Une Baignade, Asnières 1884
Oil on canvas National Gallery, London
Georges was 24 years old
He began his next monumental piece and the one he is most famous for, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, just after The Bathers and completed it in 1885. He wanted to exhibit the piece with the Independants, but the show was cancelled because of money troubles.
This event was the tipping point of Seurat's painting life. That year he decided to spend some time painting with his friends on the Normandy coast. There he painted 12 oil sketches (he called them croqueton, little sketches) of Bec du Hoc. His first marine landscapes, he ended up using two for larger canvases later. But what was different here than any other time was he started to use his theory of color fusion--instead of mixing colors on the palette, he placed small dots to mix colors on the canvas.
Here is an example of one of his sketches of Bec du Hoc:
|One of 12 studies on Bec du Hoc
|Bec du Hoc using pointillism
Here is the incredible of the incredible:
|A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1886
Oil on canvas, Chicago Art Institute
|Public domain by author, Wikipedia
Interestingly, the Bathers and Sunday Afternoon seem to have a connection. The bathers are on one side of the river,while the bourgeoisie (middle class) are on the other side. If you'll notice in the Bathers, there is land jetting out in the upper right hand corner and a boy shouting. Some say the land represents the other park and the boy is calling out to the other people across the way.
Here's an interpretation from Wikipedia, which I thought covered it best:
Seurat's Bathers preceded A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which shows people on the bank of the other side of the river. While the bathers at Asnieres on the left bank are working class people, it is the bourgeoisie who are on the right bank. The bathers are cast in light, while on the Grande Jatte almost everyone is in shadows, and there are allusions to lust (a woman with a monkey on a leash) and prostitution (a woman "fishing"). Seurat's message has been interpreted as implying that the working class represented the future, while the middle classes had grown decrepit and ridden with vice. Seen this light and context, the boy who bathes on the other side of the river bank at Asnières appears to be calling out to them, as if to say "we are the future, come and join us".
|The Cirque 1890
Again, another artist dies way too young. It was 1891 and Seurat was hanging his famous Le Cirque (see right) at the latest exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. Surprisingly, it was not quite finished, but he was hanging it anyway, no one knows why. That was a Tuesday and he was annoyed by a sore throat. By Thursday the sore throat developed into a massive fever. By the next day he was at his mother's doorstep asking for care with his pregnant mistress and son in hand.
Unfortunately, by Sunday, he was dead at 31. He had choked to dead. According to an article I read from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Seurat probably had diphtheria and may have survived if he had gone to hospital instead, since they could have done a tracheotomy to clear his airway.
Sadly, his infant son dies two weeks later of the same illness.. His son dies two weeks later of the same thing. The CDC believes that perhaps Madeleine was a carrier of diphtheria, but never showed symptoms. Months later, she gives birth, but the child dies closely thereafter. In the end, Madeleine died at the early age of 35 from cirrhosis of the liver.
Every time I study an artist for this blog, I think I have met the best and then I meet another and say, Wow! Since I enjoy stippling so much, I feel a bit of kinship with Seurat. I really do enjoy completing an entire drawing with small dots with pen and ink or now colored brush markers. It's actually very soothing, meditative and calming.
As with the article on Toulouse-Lautrec, I wish I had more time and space to talk about this artist too. Seurat in his short 10 years of art production, created some of the best works the world has ever seen. His eye and understanding for color is amazing. He also was a master of composition, form and design. His work literally takes my breath away.
For fun, you can now find the play, Sunday Afternoon in the Park with George on YouTube. It's a fun play, although not terribly accurate regarding his mistress and child. I love how they incorporate his painting throughout the play.
Next month, I'd like to conclude this series of articles with an examination of how these post impressionists affected modern art.