GEORGES SEURAT (1859-1891)
GEORGES SEURAT (1859-1891)
GEORGES SEURAT (1859-1891)
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GEORGES SEURAT (1859-1891)

Arbre et route

GEORGES SEURAT (1859-1891)
Arbre et route
black Conté crayon on paper
9 3⁄8 x 12 ¼ in. (23.8 x 31.1 cm.)
Drawn circa 1883
Estate of the artist.
R. Gouy collection.
César de Hauke and Galerie Hector Brame, Paris (acquired from the above, 1957).
Acquired from the above by the Phillips family, October 1957.
C.M. de Hauke, Seurat et son oeuvre, Paris, 1961, vol. II, p. 128, no. 539 (illustrated, p. 129).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Georges Seurat: The Drawings, October 2007-January 2008, p. 250, no. 32 (illustrated, p. 72; dated 1881-1882).
Further details
After the pre-sale exhibition, this lot will be transferred to storage in Delaware and will be available for shipment from Delaware. Please note that title to the lot will transfer to the buyer in accordance with the Conditions of Sale while the lot is in storage in Delaware. Contact Christie’s Client Service team at +1 212 636 2000 for further details.

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Lot Essay

With its crepuscular atmosphere, Arbre et route exemplifies the extraordinary tenebrism found in Georges Seurat’s Conté crayon drawings. Drawn circa 1883, the work dates from the beginning of the artist’s mature style, and likely depicts the surroundings of Paris, which the artist made his subject during these years. The titular tree looms large over the countryside road, its leafy mass almost entirely black under the vast, open sky.
Drawing was formative to Seurat’s artistic development and would play a central role throughout his short practice. As Robert Herbert later noted, his graphic output was “so superb in every sense” that it posed “a serious challenge to the preeminence of his paintings” (Seurat’s Drawings, New York, 1965, p. 35). At the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, where he enrolled in 1878, Seurat was taught the academic technique of contour line drawing; he frequently made copies of paintings and sculptures at the various museums around Paris, following the example of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, with the aim of developing a total mastery of the line.
In 1879, Seurat left the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts to serve his requisite infantry service in Brest. While living in the coastal city, and whenever time allowed, he filled his notebooks with sketches of anatomical studies, figural groupings, and his barracks, among other subjects. These were more gestural and looser than his previous academic studies, and by the time he returned to Paris in November 1880, Seurat had reimagined his approach to drawing. Instead of outlining his forms, he built up his imagery through densely hatched masses of dark and light, playing with the density of the shadows to create a sense of three-dimensionality and detail. He used, almost exclusively, jet black Conté crayon and Michallet paper, a particular type of thick, off-white paper with a texture that would catch the crayon’s marks and introduce a certain amount of light into the rich, luminous black. Seurat courted such effects and he regularly added a thin coat of shellac fixative to certain passages to increase the paper’s tooth for subsequent applications of Conté crayon. He also periodically used a scraper to remove the opaque black as a means of producing white highlights. Such techniques resulted in the trembling tonalities that so often read as twilight. Indeed, although the sky in Arbre et route is light, this is clearly a moonlit world.
The subject of Arbre et route, that of a simplified landscape, recalls the work of Jean-Francois Millet, who was fond of nocturnal settings. Seurat admired the Barbizon painter and was likely inspired by his predecessor to explore similarly reduced forms and scenes of rural peasants and landscapes, which avoid anecdote or detail. In both his paintings and drawings of the early 1880s, the artist explored sweeping diagonals and expressive croppings as seen in Arbre et route as well as contemporaneous paintings such as Lisière de bois au printemps, in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and Bords de Rivière, at the National Gallery, London (de Hauke, nos. 51 and 74).
If, during these years, Seurat predominantly drew rural settings, following the completion of the present work his subject matter diversified. He began to depict signs of industrialization, Parisian street scenes, and the people who populated the French capital. These were motifs he would develop in his studio, concentrating on the drama of the relationship between light and dark as he refined his understanding of and relationship to modern France. Arbre et route speaks to this transitional moment: although a landscape, the slender chimney on the lefthand side of the drawing marks the encroachment of the industrial world.

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