Attelage rural was painted around 1883 and is one of Georges Seurat's so-called croquetons, pictures created on wooden panels that he could carry through the countryside, working directly from the motif. Sometimes erroneously described as cigar box lids, the panels Seurat used are largely walnut or mahogany, rather than cedar wood. Often, Seurat would not prime his panels, allowing the rich colour of the wood to add its own warm ground to the compositions. It was in these croquetons that Seurat developed the visual language that would lead to his celebrated masterpiece, Une baignade, Asnières, now in the National Gallery, London, in which he would move gradually towards a new concept of painting based on colour theories. The Neo-Impressionism that Seurat would come to spearhead would have a marked effect on colour theories for a number of artists, bringing about new understandings and confidence in the avant garde, resulting in the embrace of Pointillism and thence Divisionism.
In his croquetons, Seurat was exploring the entire nature of the relationship between colour and form, using his studies of the ever-advancing science of perception to help inform him. Seurat has managed to capture light, colour and form alike through brushstrokes that are almost hatched, darting this way and that. In this way, he has succeeded both in lending a shimmering, almost Impressionistic air to the composition while also building up a complex sense of monumentality that belies the quotidian nature of the scene. At the same time, the composition of the painting as a whole appears almost formal in its use of horizontal bands of green and yellow, with the horse and cart thrust into relief by its contrast with that backdrop. This hints at the developments that would lead to Une baignade, Asnières and would subsequently result in the rigorous fusion of art and scientific theory of high Neo-Impressionism.
Croquetons such as Attelage rural were the cutting edge arenas of experimentation that would result in various sea-changes in the development of the avant garde. Looking at Seurat's all-too-short career, cut short by his death in his early thirties, it is astonishing to see the advances that he made in the brief period of his so-called maturity. Attelage rural was painted shortly after Seurat had been released from his military service. While he had already been an art student before being conscripted to join the armed forces, it was after his return home in November 1880, having had his way paid out of military service, that he approached art with a new-found passion, and with new-found confidence. Within a short time, only in his early twenties, he was drawing and painting works which were unique in their vision, bold and trailblazing stepping stones towards Neo-Impressionism.