Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Property from a Distinguished French Collection This following series of five outstanding works by Georges Seurat (1859-1891) offers a complete overview of the artist's oeuvre and working methods until the achievement of his most famous large composition, the masterpiece Un Dimanche d'été à l'Ile de La Grande Jatte, 1884-1886, now at the Art Institute of Chicago. His contemporaries such as Signac or Pissarro considered Seurat the inventor of divisionism and a revolutionary. In 1884, Seurat was one of the founding members of the Société des artistes indépendants that created the same year the first independent salon allowing artists to show their work freely to the public. Seurat, who died prematurely in 1891 when he was 31 years old, was considered a forerunner of modern art by artists of the early 20th century and more particularly by cubist painters. In 1929, examples of Seurat's work were included in the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art alongside works by Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cézanne. Alfred Barr, first director of the museum, viewed these artists as the pioneers of the 19th century, a reference for the modern art that would be presented at the museum. Seurat created a new method of painting and renewed the Impressionist genre by juxtaposing touches of pure color directly on the surface of the canvas, instead of mixing the pigments on the palette. Focused on the scientific research into division of tones conducted by Chevreul in De la Loi du contraste simultané des couleurs, 1839, Seurat would place small dots of color that would mix in the observer's eye to create vivid three dimensional forms. Thus, Seurat discovered a new way to represent art through large compositions that he liked to call "canvases of combat". The monumental Un Dimanche d'été à l'Ile de La Grande Jatte was called "a manifesto-painting" by critic Félix Fénéon at its first public appearance in May 1886 and remains among the most renowned paintings of the 19th century. The rare oil panel Paysage, homme assis, circa 1884 (lot 9), belongs to the series of studies realized on the site of La Grande Jatte in late 1884. To complete the painting, the artist moved back and forth between drawings, outdoor sketches, preparatory canvases and the final composition in his studio. For a year he studied the framing of the scene and the illumination of the figures. The oil sketches played a crucial role in defining the Grande Jatte and Paysage is one the few panels focused on the effect of light in the landscape. Though Seurat's painted oeuvre is often characterized as luminous, paradoxically the artist first explored light and shadows in his black and white drawings. Enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the studio of Henri Lehmann in 1878, he studied academic theories for only a year, preferring to learn by himself. For three years, he concentrated on drawings, filling pages of sketches from scenes in the street, men sitting on park's benches, laborers, or passersby. These vigorous life-sketches of people in action enabled the artist to surpass the academic boundaries in order to create a personal style of drawing: depicting figures without marking their outlines. Seurat then developed a system of parallel strokes to model the shapes and cross-hatching lines to render light and contrast. The drawing Le Peintre à sa palette, circa 1881 (lot 12) is a perfect example of Seurat's emerging process and is also one of the first works he executed with his thereafter signature medium, black Conté crayon. The subject of the work is distinctive and can be grasped at a glimpse. This drawing is the only one of this series of sixty depicting a painter at work. Femme s'éloignant, circa 1881 (lot 13) also belongs to the early career of Seurat but should be understood as a transitional work relative to his later mature drawings, and particularly for his drawings depicting elegant and mysterious women in which he plays with the crayon to create shadows and reinforce the mysterious ambience. From 1882, the artist achieved in drawings a method of chiaroscuro without any parallel in the 19th century that paved the way to his revelatory dot paintings. Using a black Conté crayon on a thick textured paper, called Michallet, he made light emerge from the paper. The crayon rubbed on the white paper with varying degrees of intensity leaves velvety black areas irradicated with the light of white dots that irradiate the darker zones. In very subtle La Promenade, circa 1882 (lot 10), the artist focused the tension on the black bow and on the boa fur succeeding to render the sensuous fabric in opacity but also creating deep contrast by juxtaposing these rich blacks with lighter zones. The figure seems indeed to walk toward the light. In Faneur (Le Casseur de pierres), circa 1882 (lot 11) the man's bust is drawn by the lone application of Conté crayon on the paper surface, his legs melting to the foreground. These two drawings illustrate Seurat at the height of his mastery of draughtsmanship and link his two primary subjects: agrarian and city workers directly inspired by Naturalist literature on one side and intimate scenes and representations of elegant and mysterious urbane women on the other. In either case, Seurat's figures are always represented from profile or from behind, extracted from any anecdotal context. To quote Alfred Barr: "Seurat was the inventor of a method, the constructor of a system without parallel in the history of art for its logical completeness. What other man, artist or layman, came so near realizing the 19th century illusion of possible perfection through science? But Seurat, the artist, was greater that Seurat, the scientist. In his work, from the least drawing to the most elaborate composition, great intelligence is completed by consummate sensibility" (The Museum of Modern Art, First Loan Exhibition, New York, 1929, p. 26). Vérane Tasseau - Art Historian
Georges Seurat (1859-1891)

Paysage, homme assis (étude pour Un Dimanche d'été à l'Ile de La Grande Jatte

Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Paysage, homme assis (étude pour Un Dimanche d'été à l'Ile de La Grande Jatte
oil on panel
6 x 9 in. (16 x 25 cm.)
Painted in 1884-1885
Léon Appert, Paris.
M. Levasseur, Paris.
Mme Fernand Canu, Paris.
Anon. sale, Mes Couturier & de Nicolay, Paris, 15 April 1988, lot 52.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Rewald and H. Dorra, Seurat, Paris, 1959, p. 118, no. 111 (illustrated).
C.M. de Hauke, Seurat et son oeuvre, Paris, 1961, vol. I, p. 68, no. 111 (illustrated).
A. Madeleine-Perdrillant, Seurat, Geneva, 1990, p. 200 (illustrated).
Paris, 23 Boulevard des Italiens, Exposition de la Revue Blanche, Georges Seurat: oeuvres peintes et dessinées, March-April 1900, no. 12.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte, June-September 2004, pp. 73, 266 and 274, no. 42 (illustrated in color, pp. 73 and 274).

Lot Essay

"Between the years 1884 and 1885 La Grande Jatte is conceived. From that moment [Seurat] has mastered and conquered himself. He owes nothing but to himself. He rises immediately as school leader; he is the one whose path will be followed" (E. Verhaeren, L'Art moderne, 1 April 1900, p. 104).

George Seurat realized his masterpiece Un Dimanche d'été à l'Ile de La Grande Jatte (Hauke, no. 162; fig. 1) between 1884 and 1886, while in his mid twenties. As Seurat himself explained in a letter to the critic Félix Fénéon dated 20 June 1890, he completed his first studies for this monumental composition at the same time that he began painting it. Paysage, homme assis is indeed part of a series of oils panels that were made on the site of La Grande Jatte, a small island in the Seine a short trip northwest of Paris, during a period of six months beginning in May 1884. The artist referred to these sketches--twenty-eight oil-on-wood panels, three larger paintings, and twenty-eight drawings total--while working in his studio on the larger composition, simultaneously completing these smaller works and continuing to perfect the larger painting.

If Un Dimanche d'été à l'Ile de La Grande Jatte was immediately considered to be a manifesto for Neo-impressionist theories on optical division of colors, the related studies, specifically the oil panels, played a crucial role in Seurat's exploration of the landscape, and the placement and illumination of his figures. He attached great importance to them, hanging them in his studio, according to the critic Gustave Coquiot: "We could still see on the walls of his new studio all the small painted studies that he loved so much" (quoted in, A. Michel, Seurat, Paris, 1924, p. 135). Seurat also chose to exhibit them in public, dating them to 1884, and placing them beside his larger painting, effectively assigning them the same status as independent works of art, rather than purely preparatory sketches. Even before showing his final painting, he sent nine panels, together with the larger oil study L'Ile de la Grande Jatte, étude (Hauke, no. 131; fig. 2) to the first Exposition de la Société des artistes indépendants at the Pavillon de la ville de Paris (December 1884--January 1885). In 1886, at the second exhibition of Independents (August--September), he showed one panel, Courbevoie (Hauke, no. 116) with La Grande Jatte, and the same year, he exhibited twelve panels, together in one frame, in the exhibition Works in Oil and Pastel by the Impressionnists of Paris organized by dealer Durand-Ruel in New York at the American Art Galleries (this same group of works was also sent to the third exhibition of Independents in March 1887 in Paris). Unfortunately, lack of documentation has prevented the exact identification of these twelve small studies.

Paysage, homme assis and La Grande Jatte were exhibited together at the first major posthumous Seurat exhibition, held in the offices of La Revue blanche from March to April 1900. It took more than a century for the two works to be reunited once more, this time for the project Seurat and the Making of la Grande Jatte organized by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004. According to Robert L. Herbert, writing in that exhibition catalogue, this panel was not one of the earliest studies for the painting, but was probably made in parallel to the final composition, to assist the artist in defining the landscape. The colors in the earlier panels are not as luminous, as seen in Paysage et personnages au second plan (Hauke, no. 107), and their brushstrokes are less distinct, closer to those of the Impressionists, as in Groupe de personages (Hauke, no. 117; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). In the later panels, Seurat played with the figures, varying their numbers and placing them in different areas of the composition, as if directing them on a stage. Paysage, homme assis shares much with the painting Paysage, une voile sur l'eau (Hauke, no. 110; fig. 3), now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., including the same framing of the landscape, although the gap between the trunk in the foreground and the two parallel trees on the left is wider in Paysage. This most likely reflects Seurat's experimentation with the landscape arrangement. The handling of paint is also quite different in the two paintings, with brushstrokes appearing larger and more frenzied and with the brown of the wood panel left quite visible here. Such a result gives the sensation of immediacy and reinforces the idea that Seurat painted it rapidly, out of doors.

As relayed by Coquiot, the artist used to spend entire days at the Grande Jatte working on these small wood boards that he liked to call croquetons: "Sometimes, he stayed all day long at the Grande Jatte when the weather was nice. He didn't give a lot of importance to his lunch and then he liked to go back to Paris with a lot of these small painted panels, well-laid in this kind of box that we get easily from the color dealer" (G. Coquiot, 1924, p. 72). Made popular by the Impressionist painters, who opened the doors of their studios to place their easels outside, these small wood panels were commercially available to artists for use with portable painting kits. They were also logistically attractive, available in different sizes, usually made from walnut or mahogany, they could be slid inside the cover of the boxed kit and easily transported, even when still wet with fresh paint. As evident from old furniture catalogues, the panels were either sold with the kits, known as thumb boxes, or separately in packs of twelve, both pre-prepared for oil painting or left rough.

In Paysage, homme assis, the wood surface remained unvarnished, and its brown-orange surface is visible in the river and on the far side of its bank, functioning as another separated touch of color. The Neo-impressionist painting speaks to the color science that fascinated Seurat. Felix Fénéon, in his review of the 1886 Impressionist exhibition which included La Grande Jatte, published the first statement on Seurat's new theories. He explained that the artist first applied a local color to a specific space then inscribed the effects of sunlight, pure orange and yellow, as faithfully as possible. The second stage involved a reciprocal relationship between the complementary color, with the painter juxtaposing complementaries to exaggerate their differences and cause an optical echo. This vibration of color reactions could trigger an impression perceived convincingly as natural light. Seurat's method was largely influenced by the theories of French chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul (1786-1889), which he learned of while studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Art. In his essay De la Loi du contraste simultané des couleurs, published in 1839, Chevreul showed that one color affects an adjacent color through a complementary nuance in tone. Applied to painting, this meant that color pigments were no longer mixed either on the palette or directly on canvas, but instead placed as small dabs side by side; the color or lighting effect taking place, from a suitable distance, in the observer's eye. In the 1890 letter from Seurat to Fénéon, the artist explains that he also knew the book Modern Chromatics, with Applications to Art and Industry, published by American physicist Odgen Rood in 1879, and translated into French two years later. Rood made the distinction between color as light and color as pigment; mixing pigments reduced their luminous effect. Around 1884, Seurat progressively assimilated these theories into his own vision of optical effects, beginning with his numerous oil panels. Paysage, homme assis clearly follows his organization of pure colors--if he used the color of the wood as the orange of sunlight, he also then juxtaposed complementary hues, like blue or purple. As he explained in a draft of a letter to journalist Maurice Beaubourg on 28 August 1890: "Art is Harmony. Harmony is the analogy of opposites, the analogy of similarities of tone, of tint, of line."

Today, more than half of the oil studies for La Grande Jatte are in the collections of prestigious museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and the National Gallery of Art, London, among others. This precious oil panel, one of the few in private hands, remained with Seurat's heirs after his death for more than a decade before it was acquired by the current owner. It is marked on the back with the inventory number 101 as well as the letter "L", inscribed by Maximilien Luce when, together with Seurat's friends Paul Signac and Félix Fénéon, he classified all works left in the studio after the artist's death in 1891.

(fig. 1) Georges Seurat, Un Dimanche après-midi sur l'Ile de la Grande Jatte. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Barcode: 2800 1560_FIG
(fig. 2) Georges Seurat, La Grande Jatte, étude. Private collection, New York.
(fig. 3) Georges Seurat, Paysage, une voile sur l'eau. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Barcode: 2800 1584

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