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A swim in Asnières

One of the most famous paintings by Georges Seurat (1859-1891) was painted in 1884 and retouched in 1887. A Bathing at Asnières, exhibited at the National Gallery in London, has been the subject of numerous preparatory studies, one of which is visible at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Contrary to the impressionist painters who often worked on the motif, in the open air Seurat painted most of the time in the studio from drawings and sketches.

Édouard Manet. Eva Gonzalès. 1870. National Gallery London
Georges Seurat. Une baignade à Asnières. 1884. National Gallery London

Refused at the official Salon, this painting will be exhibited at the 1st Salon des Indépendants in 1884. A group of 7 young people and a small dog are sunbathing on the bank of the Seine, while other characters canoe or race further. A smuggler leads a couple to the other bank, while at the bottom of the canvas, we can make out the famous railway bridge painted by Claude Monet and Gustave Caillebotte, as well as factory chimneys, a concession to the reality of an assumed modernity. Georges Seurat's canvas gives off a calm and silent impression, reinforced by its monumental dimensions (3m x 2m). In the criss-crossing brushstrokes of grass and foliage there already appears a division of color which contrasts with the impressionism of water and sky.

Rolinda Sharples. L'artiste et sa mère. 1816. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Georges Seurat. Esquisse pour Une baignade à Asnières. 1883. Cleveland Museum of Art

This oil painting on wood panel is one of the many preparatory studies made by Seurat for his Bathing. Often compared to Doux pays by Puvis de Chavannes, the composition is already complete, using the golden ratio on many occasions. The bright colors blend in with the outside light, releasing the outlines of the patterns. The seated character will be joined on the bank by 6 other accomplices in the final canvas.

Eva Gonzalès. La promenade en âne. 1880-1882. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Puvis de Chavannes. Doux Pays. 1882. Musée Bonnat-Helleu

Prematurely dead at the age of 32, Georges Seurat was the creator of Divisionism or Neo-Impressionism, the principles of which will be inspired by a rigorous reflection on the sciences of color.

In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...


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