Sunday, April 13, 2008

L'après-midi D'une Peinture

Georges Seurat (1959-1891) - Bathers at Asnieres, 1883-84 (retouched 1887)

'There are moments on hot summer days when we are prepared for a miracle. The stillness and the gently vibrating haze give to our perceptions a kind of finality, and we wait listening for some cosmic hum to enchant, like Papageno's bells, the uncouth shapes and colors which surround us, so that they all dance to the same tune and finally come to rest in a harmonious order. In life the miracle doesn't happen, and it is rare enough in art, because great painters have usually created imaginary worlds, outside the range of our ordinary visual experience. But it happens in Seurat's Baignade. As I catch sight of this large canvas at the end of the gallery, framed by a door so that the illusion of reality is increased, I feel that the haze and stillness of summer have at last fulfilled their promise. Time has stopped, everything has become its proper shape, and every shape is in its proper place.'

Kenneth Clark

'Admirers of Seurat often regret his method, the little dots. But the dots are not simply a technique; they are a tangible surface and the ground of important qualities, including his finesse. Too much has been written, and often incorrectly, about the scientific nature of the dots. The question whether they make a picture more or less luminous hardly matters. A painting can be luminous and artistically dull, or low-keyed in color and radiant to the mind. Besides, bow to paint brightly is no secret requiring a special knowledge of science. Like Van Gogh, Seurat could have used strong colors in big areas for a brighter effect. But without his peculiar means we would not have the marvelous delicacy of tone, the uncountable variations within a narrow range, the vibrancy and soft luster, which make his canvases, and especially his landscapes, a joy to contemplate. Nor would we have his surprising image-world where the continuous form is built up from the discrete, and the solid masses emerge from an endless scattering of fine points - a mystery of the coming-into-being for the eye.'

Meyer Shapiro

'Bathing has never been labeled "Monday"; yet its tranquil assembly of men and boys resting against the backdrop of a working factory must have been inspired by the all-male work-stopping rituals of Saint Lundi. The link between bathing and the celebration of Saint Lundi in the 1880s reveals the simultaneous contemporaneity and chronological incongruity (which I will call "anachronicity") of Seurat's social awareness and descriptive practice . . .

By the time Seurat completed Bathing in May 1884, the working class tradition of Monday off was changing. Workers had come to associate its celebration not with resistance to employers or to wives, but rather with the resignation and frustration of admitting to being a worker. During the Second Empire, for example, workers preferred to take off Monday because, unlike Sunday, there was no need to dress up. But, by the 1880s, workers dreamed of escaping from their blue smocks and dressing like the middle class did. Indeed, more and more workers managed to do precisely that: analysis of worker's budgets in the later nineteenth century, shows that an increasingly large percentage of income was expended on leisure-time clothing in order to reduce the sartorial distinctions between the classes on Sunday.

[In] its early stages, Bathing was conceived as a proletarian picture but was transformed into an image of shopkeepers and artisans in the course of the development of the project. In the final canvas, knee-length white cloaks, tabbed leather boots, bowlers, and straw boaters (shopkeeper's garb) were substituted for the blue smocks and casquettes worn by the men in earlier sketches. Seurat updated the subject of his first major painting by replacing a working-class population with members of the ascendant class of the day, the lower middle class . . . '

S. Hollis Clayson