Painted in 1884, Paysage et personnages (La jupe rose) is among the most celebrated of the intricately worked oil on panel studies that Georges Seurat created for his renowned masterpiece Un dimanche d’été à l’Île de La Grande Jatte. While the completed composition was immediately considered to be a manifesto for Neo-impressionist theories on the optical division of colors, the related studies played a crucial role in the development of Seurat’s groundbreaking theories, as well as allowing him to explore the nuances of the landscape, the placement and illumination of his figures, and the delicate play of sunlight within the scene. Seurat attached great importance to these panels, which he called croquetons, allowing them to hang in his studio for extended periods of time, as the critic Gustave Coquiot recalled: “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).
The subject: the island beneath a scorching sky, at four o’clock, boats slipping along its flanks, stirring with a fortuitous Sunday population enjoying fresh air among the trees.”
In Paysage et personnages (La jupe rose), the artist focuses on the elegant woman in a rose colored skirt and tailored jacket who would take up one of the principal positions in the final composition, standing in full sunlight at the very center of the canvas and clutching the hand of a young girl in a white dress and sunhat. The figure had also appeared in Bords de la Berge, Paysage et figures (de Hauke, no. 125; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), standing further back under the forked tree’s slanting branch, her brilliant, brick-red skirt standing out against the bright green hues of the grass, as she wanders through the park, basking in the sunshine. In the present oil panel, the artist moves her forward, allowing her to occupy a more prominent position that is closer to her final placement in Un dimanche d’été à l’Île de La Grande Jatte. Paying close attention to the details of her fashionable outfit, from the unusual shape of her hat to the high neckline and cinched waist of her jacket, Seurat allows the young woman to become a dashing figure within the scene, as she now shields herself from the heat of the sun with a small parasol.
To her left, a tall man wearing an overcoat and top hat adopts a contrapposto stance, his back turned to the goings-on of the river, as his attention is caught by the young woman walking by. Though he would disappear completely from the artist’s studies after the present work, the presence of the gentleman in Paysage et personnages (La jupe rose) lends the scene a rich sense of intrigue—though the two stand apart, suggesting they are not together, there is something in their body language and stance that implies the pair are about to begin a conversation, as if he has called out or complimented her, and a romantic attachment will ensue. This is completely absent in the final composition; instead, the woman assumes the role of serene mother, holding the hand of her young child as they stroll through the park. While the mother and daughter do not appear in the exact position of the final composition in any of the croquetons, Seurat explores their pairing in several of the oil studies (see de Hauke, no. 124; Sammlung Rosengart, Lucerne).
While the rest of the figures in the scene are summarily sketched, mostly seen grouped together in the distance along the river bank, as if crowded together on the shoreline watching a boat race on Seine, a young couple to the right of the top-hatted man and woman with the parasol are granted more attention, their interaction suggesting a similarly intimate relationship. Donning a jaunty straw-hat, the man holds a swaddled baby in his arms, while his female companion looks on, her arm raised as if to stroke the child. Offering a note of domestic bliss and enduring romance, the pair would also appear in the final composition for Un dimanche d’été à l’Île de La Grande Jatte, though further back along the island.As with many of the croquetons, these figures appear more casually dressed here than in the final composition, where the man is seen sporting a top-hat and the woman a more prominent bustle, which expands her figure and grants her a stronger presence in the scene. Indeed, throughout this oil study, there is a greater sense of naturalism and movement, suggesting the characters and their interactions have been spontaneously captured through direct observation by the artist, before being elegantly refined and transformed into the frieze-like figures of the final canvas.
The interlacing of colors across the panel is highly complex, showing the direction of Seurat’s thoughts and concerns at this time. The entire surface is executed in a mixture of horizontal, vertical and diagonal brushwork, from the balayé (criss-cross; literally, swept) strokes used to render the lush grass in the foreground, to the clear horizontal dabs of the water that suggest the movement of the river. While there is a certain spontaneity to the execution, the panel retains the inherent regularity and sense of rhythm that defines Seurat’s artistic vision, and remains distinctly focused on the interactions of complementary colors directly on the surface of the painting. Felix Fénéon, in his review of the 1886 Impressionist exhibition which included Un dimanche d’été à l’Île de La Grande Jatte, published the first statement on Seurat’s new theories, explaining 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 colors, with the painter juxtaposing tones to exaggerate their differences and cause an optical echo. The resulting vibration of the color reactions could trigger an impression perceived convincingly as natural light by the viewer.
Seurat’s method was largely influenced by the theories of French chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul, which he learned of while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts. 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.
For example, in Paysage et personnages (La jupe rose) the titular rose-colored skirt is made up of a myriad of hues, from pale pinks to a deep wine color, as well as streaks of yellow, blue, and a deep lavender. The sun strikes each figure from the left, the glow of sunlight casting one side in rich orange hues as it hits their bodies, while the shadows on the right hand side of their forms are executed in an array of darker tones, with the artist adding deep blues and purples to lend the figures a greater sense of three-dimensionality. Similarly, the tones of the trees in the composition gradually deepen as they recede into the distance, lending the composition a rich sense of depth, while also acknowledging the shifting intensity of the sunlight in more shaded areas of the landscape.
The central woman is a miracle of brilliant color and observation… [She] is truly one of the most beautiful figures of all the panels.”
The pools of dark shadow that dot the landscape are accented by brief strokes of crimson and soft mauve, which resonate against the bright green hues of the grass, while the river is filled with streaks of peach, gold and pale pink amidst the swathes of blue pigment. But it is perhaps in the woman’s hat that we see most clearly the intensity and complexity of Seurat’s technique at this time. Though occupying barely a single square centimeter of the panel, Seurat delineates its form with a myriad of strokes, applying short, sharp touches of bright green, pink and orange in delicate layers, generating a light brown tone that is at once clearly bathed in the shade of her parasol, and yet filled with an intense luminosity that allows it to sit comfortably against the brighter hues of the foliage and the shimmering river.
Seurat chose to exhibit a number of the oil panels and preparatory sketches in public, often 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 the final painting, he sent nine panels, together with the larger oil study L'Île de la Grande Jatte, étude (de Hauke, no. 131; Private Collection) to the first Exposition de la Société des artistes indépendants at the Pavillon de la ville de Paris, from December 1884 to January 1885. Paysage et personnages (La jupe rose) was sent by the artist, along with eleven other works, to the first large scale exhibition of Impressionist works ever to be staged in America. Organized by Paul Durand-Ruel, “Works in Oil and Pastel by the Impressionists of Paris” opened in April 1886 at the American Art Galleries in New York, and marked an important turning point in the collecting of art in the United States.
The present panel remained in the artist’s possession until his untimely death in 1890, after which it was acquired by the Belgian painter Jean de Greef. The painting would pass through the collection of the Symbolist poet and art dealer Charles Vignier during the early twentieth century, before making its way across the Atlantic in the mid-1920s, where it was later reunited with Le Saint-Cyrien. The two croquetons were then acquired by the Boston-based collector Robert Treat Paine II in April 1929 from M. Knoedler & Co., Inc. in New York, and the pair have remained in his family ever since, cherished throughout the subsequent generations. A descendant of Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814), a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and nephew of the dynamic philanthropist and social reformer Robert Treat Paine Jr., after whom he was named, Robert Treat Paine II was an avid collector and true connoisseur of art, acquiring a diverse array of masterpieces over the course of his life, from medieval tapestries and Old Master drawings, to exquisite Sèvres porcelain and the bold compositions of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.
Renowned for his discerning taste, Paine was highly selective in his purchases, prioritizing quality in his search for pieces that were best representative of particular aspects of an artist’s oeuvre. Working with dealers in both Europe and the United States, his acquisitions revealed a passion for portraiture and the human figure, as seen in his purchases of Edgar Degas’ portrait of his sister and her new husband, Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli (circa 1865), Paul Cézanne’s Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair (circa 1877), and Vincent Van Gogh’s Postman Joseph Roulin (1888), all of which were subsequently donated by Paine to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he served as a Trustee from 1928 until his death fifteen years later. Both Paysage et personnages (La jupe rose) and Le Saint-Cyrien have left an indelible mark on subsequent generations of the family, with their most recent custodian describing the joy the two panels brought: “I love them, and consider it a very great privilege to have lived with them... My life has been deeply affected by seeing them every day.”
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).