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Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Georges Seurat (1859-1891)

Le haut de forme

Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Le haut de forme
black Conté crayon on paper
12 1/8 x 9 3/8 in. (31.2 x 23.8 cm.)
Drawn circa 1883
Léon Appert and Marie Berthe Seurat, Paris (by 1908).
Mme Louis Alice Roussel, Paris (by descent from the above, by 1925).
Anon. sale, Tajan, Paris, 22 June 1988, lot 4.
Ian Woodner, New York (acquired at the above sale).
The Woodner Family Collection, New York (by descent from above).
Acquired from the above by Achim Moeller Fine Art on behalf of John C. Whitehead, 1990.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., ed., Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, Paris, 1 September 1921, p. 472 (illustrated).
L. Cousturier, Georges Seurat, Paris, 1926 (illustrated, pl. 46).
D.C. Rich, Seurat and the Evolution of La Grande Jatte, Chicago, 1935, pp. 10, 15 and 18, notes 1, 10 and 13.
A. Lhote, Seurat, Paris, 1948, no. 4 (illustrated, pl. 4; dated 1882-1883).
C.M. de Hauke, Seurat et son oeuvre, Paris, 1961, vol. I, p. 242, no. 571 and vol. II, p. 150, no. 571 (illustrated, vol. II, p. 151).
R.L. Herbert, Seurat's Drawings, New York, 1962, pp. 118-119 and 182, no. 101 (illustrated in color, p. 117; dated 1884-1886).
R. Kendall, "Highlights and Shadows, Seurat Retrospective at the Grand Palais," Apollo, vol. 133, no. 352, 1991, p. 420 (illustrated).
J. Russell, "Seurat Beckons to Many Worlds Beyond the Dot," The New York Times, 28 April 1991, pp. 33-34 (illustrated, p. 34).
M.F. Zimmermann, Seurat and the Art Theory of His Time, Antwerp, 1991, p. 129, no. 252 (illustrated, p. 128).
R.L. Herbert, Seurat, Drawings and Paintings, New Haven, 2001, p. 44, no. 26 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Georges Seurat, December 1908-January 1909, p. 24, no. 159.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Seurat, November-December 1957, no. 46.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Woodner Collection, Master Drawings, March-May 1990, p. 324, no. 132 (illustrated in color, p. 325).
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seurat, April 1991-January 1992 (nos. 47 and 48, respectively).
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, From Daumier to Matisse, Selections from the John C. Whitehead Collection, May 2002, pp. 40 and 76, no. 5 (illustrated in color, pp. 41 and 76).
The Art Institute of Chicago, Seurat and the Making of the Grande Jatte, June-September 2004, p. 275, no. 66 (illustrated, p. 90).
Kunsthaus Zürich, Georges Seurat, Figures in Space, October 2009-January 2010, p. 27, no. 15 (illustrated).
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, From Daumier to Matisse, French Master Drawing from the John C. Whitehead Collection, April-May 2010, p. 24, no. 5 (illustrated in color, p. 25).

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Lot Essay

Seurat drew this irradiant silhouette of a gentleman in a top hat–the title Le haut de forme refers to his accessory–during 1883-1884. For several years then this artist had been "the young man mad about drawing," as his friend Gustave Kahn described him (Seurat Drawings, Paris ed., 1928; New York, repr. 1971, p. v). Seurat drew incessantly, quickly filling the pocket-sized carnets he carried everywhere he went, sketching figures in the casual, naturalistic situations in which he encountered them. In his studio Seurat created even more wondrous, magnificent works on larger sheets of paper. "On the day Seurat devoted himself to drawing," Kahn declared, "Neo-Impressionism began" (ibid., p. ix).
By mid-1881 Seurat had completely rejected the conventional technique of contour line drawing he had been taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Instead he typically rendered the forms of his subject by means of densely hatched, contrasting masses of light and shade, running the hard tip of his jet black Conté crayon across the finely textured surface of high-grade Michallet laid paper. Seurat developed such an acutely sensitive touch with this implement that he could control the layering of trace-marks on the sheet to create tonal gradations ranging from the blackest darkness to pale but glowing surfaces of light. Most magically in passages between these extremes, he could evoke the appearance of light, not falling on the figure or object, but translucently emanating from within it. “These are the most beautiful painter’s drawings that ever existed,” Paul Signac claimed. “Thanks to Seurat’s perfect mastery of values, one can say that his ‘black-and-whites’ are more luminous, and even more full of colour than many a painting in oils” (quoted in J. Russell, Seurat, London, 1965, pp. 65-66).
Seurat was not alone in working so thoroughly by means of such elaborately rendered contrasts of light and dark. Odilon Redon had attracted a small following of connoisseurs who admired him for having mined this vein in those drawings he called his “noirs”. Robert L. Herbert has suggested the influence on the appearance and manner of Seurat’s crayon method stem from the graphic styles of Rembrandt and Goya, in both their drawings and prints, and closer to Seurat’s own time, the work of Jean-François Millet, Honoré Daumier, Eduard Manet, and Henri Fantin-Latour (op. cit. 2001, pp. 21 and 57-65).
Indeed, the spirit of Daumier, as well as the popular broadside illustrations Seurat liked to collect, also inform Le haut de forme. “This drawing articulates a type with a touch of caricature,” Herbert has observed. “The man’s profile–one of the few outlined faces in Seurat’s oeuvre–is drawn with a cartoonist’s economy...The man’s reality was found in his clothing. His top hat seems overly large, although he wears it with pride. This portly gentleman is regarded with humor, a gentle humor as always in Seurat. The figure resembles some of those for La Grande Jatte in its smooth modeling, its strong silhouette against a light ground, and its puppetlike aspect” (ibid., p. 71).
The latter parallel is most apt; Seurat’s creation of the present drawing was likely coincident with his studies for his first masterwork, La baignade, Asnières, 1883-1884 (Hauke, no. 62; National Gallery, London), and possibly with the earliest studies for the epic Un dimanche à la Grande Jatte, 1884-1886 (Hauke, no. 162; Art Institute of Chicago). The granulated appearance in Seurat’s drawn sheets is reflected in the pointillist technique the artist practiced and perfected in La Grande Jatte.
“Seurat’s discipline has influenced most of the fine painters now living,” Kahn wrote in 1928. “There are scarcely any who have not been obsessed by the majesty of his figures, by their marvelous stature in the light. There are none who have not been moved by the painterly quality, by the touch of perfection with which he balanced his values, and by the poetical and simple strength he managed to give to his admirable drawings in black and white” (op. cit., 1928/1971, p. xiii).

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