Georges Seurat

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jun 4, 2023

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Georges-Pierre Seurat (Paris, December 2, 1859 - Gravelines, March 29, 1891) was a French painter and pioneer of the Neo-Impressionist movement.

Artistic training

The son of Ernestine Faivre, Georges-Pierre Seurat was born on December 2, 1859, in Paris, where his father Antoine-Chrysostome, having left the business of law after getting rich from real estate speculation, was engaged in gardening, collecting paintings of devotional subjects, and going to mass on Sundays in the private chapel. After the birth of baby Georges, the Seurat family moved to their maternal home near Paris, where their fourth and last child was born in 1863 and died in 1868.

Georges was enrolled in a boarding school, which he attended until 1875. There he developed an ardent love of drawing and painting, disciplines he cultivated in Paris under the guidance of his maternal uncle Paul Haumontré-Faivre, an amateur painter. In 1876, moved by sincere enthusiasm, little Georges enrolled in the municipal drawing school, then located at No. 17 rue des Petits-Hôtels, where he had the sculptor Justin Lequien as his teacher, while Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, who was to meet and assist van Gogh in 1890 in Auvers-sur-Oise during his last months of life, gave anatomy lessons there. Among the students was Edmond Aman-Jean, who would always remain a great friend of Seurat. At this institute, in any case, Seurat devoted himself primarily to drawing, both by copying the great Old Masters, such as Hans Holbein the Younger and Raphael Sanzio, and by drawing both from plaster casts and from life. The artist he most admired was the neoclassical Ingres, whose purity of line and vigorous plasticism he appreciated: the partial copy made at the Louvre is the most challenging exercise, and the first in oil, that has been preserved to us by Seurat.

Although he did not distinguish himself by any particular talent Seurat was a serious and conscientious pupil, who combined drawing practice with a deep interest in specific theoretical problems, which he deepened by reading specific texts such as Charles Blanc's Grammaire des arts du dessin, published in 1867. Blanc, an art critic, founder of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts and member of the Académie française, had theorized about the mutual influence that colors, placed side by side, exert on each other, and investigated the relationships between primary and complementary colors, so as to obtain in painting, from their correct use, the maximum expressiveness. However, Charles Blanc also developed some of the theories of Dutch painter and engraver David Pièrre Giottino Humbert de Superville, set out in 1827 in Essai sur les signes inconditionnels de l'art, which favored, rather than color, the function of lines, which were useful in giving the work a vigorous compositional rhythm: "to the extent that the composition rises, it diminishes the importance of color in order to turn preferentially to drawing"-and express affective values-"lines speak and signify things"-such as cheerfulness, emotion or indifference. Since," Blanc argued, referring to the vertical line, "the human body erect from the ground, constitutes the prolongation of a ray of the globe perpendicular to the horizon," then "the axis of his body, which begins in the center of the earth, goes to reach the heavens. It follows that the other fundamental lines, the horizontal and the oblique, the two ascending to the right and left starting from a point on the central axis and the two similarly descending, "beyond their mathematical value, have a moral significance, that is, a secret relationship with feeling," namely: the horizontal line expresses balance and wisdom, the ascending oblique expresses joy, pleasure, but also inconstancy, and the descending oblique expresses sadness and meditation. Drawing and paintings thus express, depending on the prevalence of certain lines in the compositional structure, moral and sentimental values. The value of physiognomic expression of such lines is evident if one thinks, with respect to the virtual axis passing through the center of the face, of the lines marking the eyebrows and the cut of the eyes, which characterize, depending on their direction -- ascending, descending, or horizontal -- the feelings expressed by a human figure.

Together with his friend Edmond Aman-Jean in 1878 Seurat enrolled at the École des beaux-arts, taking courses from a student of Ingres, the painter Henri Lehmann, who, an admirer of Italian Renaissance painting, had long stayed in Italy, particularly Florence. In the school library Seurat uncovered the Loi du contraste simultané des couleurs [Law of Simultaneous Contrast of Colors], an essay by chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul published in 1839: the law formulated by Chevreul states that "the simultaneous contrast of colors encloses the phenomena of modification which differently colored objects would appear to undergo in physical composition, and the scale of their respective colors when seen simultaneously." It was a book that opened a whole horizon of study for him on the function of color in painting to which he would devote the rest of his life: Chevreul argued that "to put color on the canvas is not only to color with that color a certain part of the canvas, but also to color with its complementary color the surrounding part."

Meanwhile, Seurat studied copies of the frescoes of Piero della Francesca's Legend of the True Cross, executed in the École chapel by the painter Charles Loyeux, and assiduously frequented the Louvre museum, where, in addition to his interest in Egyptian and Assyrian sculptures, he could realize that Delacroix, but also old masters such as Veronese, had already put into practice, albeit empirically, principles relating to the mutual influences exerted by colors.

In May 1879, Seurat, Aman-Jean and new friend Ernest Laurent visited the Fourth Exhibition of the Impressionists to admire the masterpieces by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Jean-Louis Forain, Gustave Caillebotte, Mary Cassatt and Albert Lebourg exhibited there. Deeply impressed by the new artistic current, Seurat and his friends became convinced of the inadequacy of academic education, deciding to stop attending the École: renting a shared studio at No. 30 rue de l'Arbalète, they discussed the new artistic and scientific ideas there - they also read Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting - and executed their first canvases there. Seurat's first major pictorial endeavor is the Head of a Girl, to which a cousin perhaps served as model: although it appears to be rather a sketch, the work has precise drawing and confidently applies the brushstrokes, the transitions of color tone and the arrangement of the dark mass of hair against the light background.

In October Seurat had to fulfill his conscription obligations, which he served for a year in Brest, where he produced numerous drawings, abandoning line in favor of seeking contrasts of tone with the chiaroscuro technique. For this purpose he used, over grainy paper, Crayon pencil, a greasy pencil consisting of charcoal powder; in the composition he favored suspended states, motionless, silent, lonely figures. The contrast of black and white defines the forms, and on the irregularly surfaced paper, the roughness highlighted by the passage of the pencil brings out the white - the light - giving softness and depth to the shadows. During these years, then, Seurat devoured the series of six articles by the painter and theorist David Sutter, published from February 1880 in the magazine L'Art under the title Phénomènes de la vision, thus reinforcing his all-positivist conviction of the need to unite the rigor of science with the free creativity of art: "One must observe nature with the eyes of the spirit and not only with the eyes of the body, as a being devoid of reason there are painter's eyes like tenor voices, but these gifts of nature must be nourished by science in order to reach their complete development science frees one from all uncertainties, allows one to move freely in a very extensive domain, it is therefore a double insult to art and science to believe that one necessarily excludes the other. Since all rules are inherent in the very laws of nature, nothing is simpler than to identify their principles, and nothing is more indispensable. In art, everything must be willed."

Returning to Paris in November 1881, Seurat rented another atelier for himself-without severing relations with his two friends-and continued his study of the function of light and color, reading, in addition to Sutter and Humbert de Superville, the writings of Helmholtz, Maxwell, Heinrich Dove, and the Modern chromatics by the American Odgen Rood. The latter took up Chevreul's theories by giving practical advice: do not employ pigments, earthy colors, and black, and use optical mixing, that is, painting in small touches of different and even opposite colors. The color circle was reproduced in the book, in which the complementary colors of each color were highlighted.

The Flowers in a Vase is Seurat's only still life and his first Impressionist attempt: by painting the background with short touches given vertically, the painter reiterates the cylindrical structure of the vase, which is instead painted with crossed brushstrokes in a palette knife style, where a sense of volume and a taste for firmly framing the subject appears secure. Shown in the later paintings of this period was his interest in the Barbizon landscape painters and Corot, as well as his abiding interest in Pissarro's Impressionism, which led him to produce smaller-sized panels, which he called croquetons : note, by way of example, Man at the Parapet, where light is alternated with shadow the composition is delimited with the stylized tree on the left and with foliage on the other side and above, a procedure taken up in the Plain with Trees at Barbizon, in which the isolated and stylized tree, while delimiting the view above by foliage, establishes the structure of the composition.

Themes of work in the fields are developed in a long series of paintings dating from late 1882 through 1883. In the Peasant Woman Sitting on the Grass, the mass of the figure, fully invested by the sunlight, stands out against the light background, painted in broad, crisscrossing brushstrokes, devoid of horizon, and its lack of detail and immobility gives monumentality to the subject, despite the humility and even the pathetic nature of the posture. The canvas of the Stone Breakers, on the other hand, is inspired by Courbet's famous 1849 masterpiece, which had already been exhibited at the 1851 Salon: while making figures that "move in a kind of tragic silence, enveloped in a mysterious atmosphere," Seurat is little interested in social significance and prefers to turn his attention to composition and the effect of color. Regarding his political stance, it should be noted that Seurat, although he never intended to express explicit political-social messages in his painting, was already attributed by his contemporaries-primarily by the painter Paul Signac-an adherence to anarchist ideals, demonstrable as much by his closeness to personalities who had adhered to anarchism, such as Signac himself, the poet Émile Verhaeren, and the writers Félix Fénéon and Octave Mirbeau, as by his desire to at least "revolutionize" the critical and artistic trends of his own time.

Artistic career

In 1883 Seurat participated in the Salon with two drawings: one, Portrait of Aman-Jean, was accepted, and in the spring he began preparing studies for his first large canvas, Bathers at Asnières. Through Ernest Laurent he met Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and frequented his studio together with his friend Aman-Jean.

Of Puvis Seurat had already appreciated in 1881 the Poor Fisherman and especially the large fresco Doux pays, presented at the 1882 Salon, admiring his ability to balance the composition by injecting into it a high feeling of serenity. For Puvis de Chavannes, painting is a "means of restoring a moral order. It is a commentary on society: not something perceived and reproduced directly, but something purified, reborn as a result of reflection, in accordance with a coherent moral idea of reality." Unlike Puvis, in whom the moral order is constituted in a serene but arcadian world, imaginary and out of time, for Seurat it is a matter of modernizing and "democratizing the arcadia," representing in painting a precise everyday reality, but one that is ordered and balanced. He keeps in mind precisely the Doux pays but with quite another modernity of technique and concepts.

The painting Bathers at Asnières, sent to the 1884 Salon, was rejected, and Seurat consequently joined the Independent Artists' Group, formed by other young painters who had suffered the fierce ostracism of the Salon judges. These refusés inaugurated the first Salon des Artistes Indépendants on May 15 in a shack in the Tuileries, in which as many as 450 painters participated, and Seurat presented his Baignade there; a number of these artists formed the Societé des Artistes Indépendants on June 4, which Seurat also joined, and he made the acquaintance of Signac on the occasion. The two painters influenced each other: Seurat eliminated earthy colors, which darken images, from his palette, while Signac embraced the scientific theories of the law of color contrast.

Eager to demonstrate the new theories in practice, as early as 1884 Seurat set his hand to the project of a new large canvas, which does not deviate, in terms of methodology of preparation and choice of subject, from that of Baignade: it is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande-Jatte. More information about this painting is invited on the specific page. During the three years required for the painting's incubation, in any case, Seurat went to Grandcamp-Maisy, on the English Channel, where he executed works in which the depiction of the human figure is consistently absent: that of the Bec du Hoc is certainly the most dramatic, with the imposing rocky mass overhanging threateningly on the shore, which may also be a symbol of hopeless loneliness. The surface of the sea is painted with short dashes and the usual small dots of pure color.

Back in Paris and having completed the Grande-Jatte Seurat could now enjoy the company and friendship of many Parisian intellectuals, such as Edmond de Goncourt, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Eduard Dujardin, Jean Moréas, Félix Fénéon, Maurice Barrès, Jules Laforgue, and the painters Edgar Degas, Lucien Pissarro, and his father Camille: the latter, who unlike his son had adhered to pointillism more out of weariness with old painting and a taste for novelty than out of deep conviction, nevertheless did not spare his young friends advice. He made them observe that uniformly colored areas transmit their own color and not just complementary ones to neighboring ones, and he worked to organize an exhibition uniting Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists. This was held from May to June 1886 in Paris, in a house rented for the occasion. It was the last exhibition of the Impressionists, but few of them participated: Pissarro, Degas, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, as well as Guillaumin, Marie Bracquemond, Zandomeneghi and, of course, Signac and Seurat. The exhibition reserved for the pointillists no success with either the public or the critics, but often irony, derision and even irritation: the painter Théo van Rysselberghe went so far as to break his walking stick in front of the Grande-Jatte, even though, a few years later, he too adopted Seurat's principles. It was only the twenty-six-year-old critic Félix Fénéon who took up the defense of the new painting, which he knew from the time of the first exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants in 1884: he published in the magazine La Vogue a series of articles in which he analyzed the principles and meaning of Seurat's art in an open but rigorous spirit, thus coining the term Neo-Impressionism.

In the course of the exhibition, in any case, Seurat got to know the young and eclectic Charles Henry, his peer, whose interests ranged from mathematics to art history, psychology to literature, aesthetics to music, and biology to philosophy. Seurat took to studying his essays on musical aesthetics - L'esthétique musicale and La loi de l'évolution de la sensation musicale - believing that his pictorial theories could accord with the young scientist's musical ones. Great influence will be had by the essays devoted to figurative art-the Traité sur l'esthétique scientifique, the Théorie des directions and the Cercle cromatique-on his last major works, the Chahut and the Circus: this will be discussed in more detail in the section Seurat and the line: the aesthetics of Charles Henry. In the summer Seurat left for Honfleur, a town on the English Channel at the mouth of the Seine, where he painted about ten canvases, marked by the expression of calm, silence and solitude, when not also of melancholy: such is the case with The Hospice and the Lighthouse at Honfleur and in part also with The Beach of Bas-Butin, already portrayed by Claude Monet, although the broad view of sea and light imprints the canvas rather to serenity. Characteristic of both canvases is the cropping of the image to the right, so as to give the viewer a sense of a broader representation than the one painted.

Back in Paris, Seurat exhibited some of his views of Honfleur and La Grande-Jatte in September at the Salon des Artistes Indepéndantes. Invited to exhibit at the IV Salon de Les Vingt (also nicknamed Les XX, The Twenties), a group of Belgian avant-garde painters formed in Brussels in 1884, he presented seven canvases and La Grande-Jatte there, which was the center of attention, amid praise and controversy, at the exhibition that opened on February 2, 1887. The poet Paul Verhaeren, a friend of Seurat, dedicated an article to him: "One describes Seurat as a scientist, an alchemist or whatever. But he uses his scientific experiences only to control his vision; they constitute for him only a confirmation as the old masters gave their characters a hieraticity that bordered on rigidity, so Seurat synthesizes movements, poses, gaits. What they did to express their time, he experiences in his own, with the same exactness, concentration and sincerity."

Already on his return to Paris, in August 1886, Seurat had conceived the study of a new large composition, which was to have the human figure as its protagonist: his new venture involved an interior, a painter's studio, with three models. He probably intended to verify and challenge certain critical remarks that argued that his technique could indeed be used to depict landscapes but not figures, because these would otherwise be wooden and lifeless.

So it was that Seurat locked himself in the studio for several weeks because the work was not proceeding according to his wishes: "Desperate chalky canvas. I no longer understand anything. Everything makes a stain. Painful work," he wrote to Signac in August. Nevertheless, he was still beginning a new painting, Circus Parade. After a couple of months of isolation, when the painting was still unfinished, he received his few friends to discuss the problems he had encountered in composing the work. "Listening to Seurat confess in front of his annual works," Verhaeren wrote, "was the equivalent of following a sincere person and being persuaded by a persuasive one. Calmly, with circumscribed gestures, never losing sight of you, and in an even voice searching for words somewhat like a preceptor, he would point out the results achieved, the certainties pursued, what he called the base. Then he would consult you, take you as witnesses, wait for a word that would make it clear that he understood himself. Very modestly, almost fearfully, although one sensed in him a silent pride in himself."

For the first time, Seurat decided to outline the perimeter of the canvas with a painted border, thus eliminating the white gap that normally circumscribes it, and he conducted the same operation on the border of La Grande-Jatte. There were few drawings and preparatory paintings: it is a trend that is reinforced until the last works. Seurat "studied less and less from life and concentrated more and more on his abstractions, less and less interested in color relationships, of which he was so master as to represent them in manner, and more and more in the symbolic expression of lines." When he was still a long way from finishing the work, he sent one of his studies, the Standing Model, to the third Salon of Independent Artists, held from March 23 to May 3, 1887, where a number of new adepts of pointillism, Charles Angrand, Maximilien Luce and Albert Dubois-Pillet, exhibited. By early 1888 both The Models and the Parade were finished, and Seurat sent them to the Fourth Salon, held, like the previous one, from late March to early May.

Les Poseues, the three models-but in reality Seurat made use of a single model, who in the painting seems almost to undress in two successive, circular moments-are in the painter's studio: on the left is a glimpse of La Grande-Jatte. As all together they can also be seen to represent the classical theme of the "Three Graces," the figure in the back, like the dedicated studio, recalls Ingres' Baigneuse but once again placed in the setting of modernity: three models in a painter's studio. A reduced-size version of the painting exists, executed shortly thereafter by Seurat, who was probably unconvinced by the outcome of his composition. But of greater artistic accomplishment appear the studies: "they have the same chromatic sensibility, the same modeling accomplished by light, the same architecture of light, the same interpretative force of the world, which are noticed in the Grande-Jatte. By contrast, in the final painting of the Poseuses the linear arabesque takes over, and the chromatic effect becomes intisified. Of the three studies, only the face nude appears too contoured to be fully immersed in the chromatic vibration. The other two are masterpieces of sensitivity."

Last years

From his summer stay in Port-en-Bessin, on the English Channel, Seurat drew a series of six seascapes, strictly painted in dots. In Port Entrance he used for decorative effect the oval shadows of the clouds over the sea, recalling the shaded areas painted on the grass of the Grande-Jatte.

Meanwhile, adhesions and imitations by artists grew, yet without Seurat being pleased, perhaps believing that it was only a passing and superficial fashion or a means of acquiring success, or more likely fearing that the authorship of the new technique would be taken away from him. In August, an article by art critic Arséne Alexandre provoked a serious reaction from Signac toward Seurat. The article claimed that the dot technique had "ruined remarkably gifted painters such as Angrand and Signac" and presented Seurat as "a true apostle of the optical spectrum, the one who invented it, saw it come into being, the man of great initiatives who almost had his authorship of the theory disputed by careless critics or disloyal comrades."

Signac asked Seurat for an explanation of that "disloyal comrades," suspecting that the article was inspired directly by him, but Seurat denied that he was the inspiration for Alexandre's article, adding that he believed that "the more we are, the more we will lose originality, and the day everyone adopts this technique, it will be worthless and something new will be sought, which is already happening. It is my right to think this way and to say so, because I paint in search of something new, a painting of my own." In February 1889 Seurat went to Brussels for the exhibition "des XX," where he exhibited twelve canvases, including the Models. On his return to Paris he met the model Madeleine Knoblock, with whom he decided to live together: this was a period in which he no longer hung out with any of his friends, and to whom he did not even communicate the address of the new apartment he had rented in October for himself and Madeleine, who was expecting a baby and whom he portrayed in Young Woman Powdering. The baby was born on February 16, 1890: recognized by the painter, he was given the name Pierre-Georges Seurat.

Controversy about whose priority it was to invent Pointillist theory continued: two articles by Jean Cristophe and Fénéon came out in the spring, in the second of which Seurat was not even mentioned. The painter protested to the critic and in August forwarded to the journalist and writer Maurice Beaubourg the well-known letter in which he expounded his aesthetic theories, as if to reaffirm his priority role in the field of neo-impressionism. But meanwhile the defections began: Henry van de Velde broke away from the group and left painting for architecture, becoming one of the major interpreters of the Art Nouveau movement. He would write many years later that he believed Seurat "more mastered the science of color. His groping, his fine-tuning, the confusion of his explanations of his so-called theories baffled me those who reproached Grande-Jatte with a lack of luminosity were right, as were those who noted the poor contribution of complementaries." He acknowledged Seurat to be the founder of that new school, indeed to have opened "a new era for painting: that of the return to style," but that new technique "had fatally to arrive at stylization."

Louis Hayet also left the movement, writing to Signac that he believed "to find a group of intelligent men helping each other in their research, with no ambition other than art. And this I believed for five years. But one day frictions arose that made me think, and in thinking I went back to the past as well; and what I believed to be a select group of researchers appeared to me to be divided into two factions, one of researchers, the other of bickering, discord-making people (perhaps without intention) not being able to live in doubt and not wanting to suffer constant torment, I decided to isolate myself." The most notable defection was that of the most prestigious artist, Pissarro. Just as he had joined pointillism to experiment with every technique that could satisfy his taste for the representation of every aspect of reality, so he abandoned it when he realized that technique ended up becoming a hindrance: "I wish to flee every rigid and so-called scientific theory. After many efforts, having realized the impossibility of pursuing such fleeting and admirable effects of nature, the impossibility of giving a definitive character to my drawing, I gave it up. It was time. Fortunately, one must believe that I was not made for this art that gives me the feeling of mortal leveling."

With his last works Seurat intended to address what he had avoided until then: movement, seeking it in its wildest expressions and in settings lit only by artificial light. Subjects taken from the world of entertainment lent themselves very well: the dancers of the Chahut - a dance similar to the Can-can - and the circus performers, with their acrobatics and trotting horses on the ring. Although The Circus was unfinished, Seurat wanted to exhibit it anyway at the Salon des Indépendants in March 1891, where it was well received by the public. A few days later, the artist took to his bed, stricken with a severe sore throat that, contrary to all predictions, worsened into violent flu until it brought Seurat into a coma and killed him on the morning of March 29, when he was but thirty-one years old. Angina was diagnosed as the official cause of death; but even today the real cause has not been ascertained. From analysis of the symptoms, it has been possible to speculate that death was caused by diphtheria or acute encephalitis, which accompanied the influenza epidemic that year in France and claimed many victims. Seurat's own son died two weeks after his father and of the same illness.

Seurat and color: chromatic complementarity and retinal blending

Seurat, intending to bring his studies on color relationships to resolution, prepared a chromatic disk, i.e., a circle whose outer rim shows all the prismatic and intermediate colors, as the chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul had already done beginning in 1839. The sequence of twenty-two colors, begins with the color blue, continuing with: ultramarine blue, artificial ultramarine, violet, purple, purple red, carmine, spurious red, vermillion, minium, orange, orange yellow, yellow green, green, emerald green, very green blue, cyan blue green, cyan blue I and cyan blue II, which rejoins the starting blue. In this way the color opposite to each other, relative to the center of the circle, was identified as the complementary color. The disk was obtained by taking the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue, and the three compound colors, orange, which is the complementary of blue by being the union of red and yellow, green, which is the complementary of red by being the union of yellow and blue, and violet, which is the complementary of yellow by being the union of red and blue, as the starting basis.

Seurat's interest in identifying the exact complementary of each color lies in the fact that each color intensifies if it is brought closer to its complementary and cancels out when mixed with it, forming a gray of particular hue depending on the proportion of their mixture. In addition, two non-complementary colors do not "look good" together when approached, but are instead harmonious if they are separated by a white hue, while two hues of the same color but of different intensities, approached together, have the characteristic of giving both a contrast, due precisely to their different intensities, and a harmony, due to their uniform tone.

To represent a given object, Seurat first used the color that the object would have if it were subjected to white light, that is, the color devoid of any reflection; then he "achromatized" it, that is, he modified the basic color with the color of the sunlight reflected in it, then with the color of the absorbed and reflected light, then with the color of the light reflected from neighboring objects, and finally with the complementary colors of those used. Since the light we perceive is always the result of a combination of determined colors, these colors had to be brought together in the canvas not mixed with each other, but separated and closely approximated by light brush strokes: according to the principle of optical blending, theorized by the physiologist Heinrich Dove, the observer, placed at a certain distance from the painted canvas-a distance varying according to the coarseness of the colored dots-no longer sees these colored dots separately, but sees them fused into a single color, which is their optical resultant imprinted on the retina of the eye. The advantage of this new technique would have consisted, according to Seurat, in producing much more intense and luminous images than the traditional laying on the canvas of hues previously mixed together on the palette by the mechanical intervention of the painter.

The dot technique is the essential element of Seurat's painting, by means of which the optical mixing of colors is achieved.Seurat did not call pointillism but "chromo-luminarism" or "divisionism" his technical-artistic conception, which, however, was to be defined shortly thereafter, in 1886, by the critic Félix Fénéon, under the name "neo-impressionism," to emphasize the difference between the original, "romantic" Impressionism and the new "scientific" Impressionism. Just as the advent of photographic technique had given precision to the reproduction of figures and things, painting also had to present itself as a technique of precision, based on the propositions of science.

Seurat and the line: the aesthetics of Charles Henry

Based on the theories of Gustav Fechner, Charles Henry argued that aesthetics is a psychobiological physics and art has a "dynamogenic" function, expressing a movement that, perceived by consciousness, produces the sensation of beauty and aesthetic pleasure or their opposite. According to Henry, in fact, the observation of reality produces two fundamental sensations, pleasure and pain, which correspond, in physiology, to the two related rhythms of expansion and contraction. The real task of art, according to Henry, is to create representations that produce expansive, dynamogenic rhythmic effects. The ability to produce the sensations of pleasure or displeasure is established by scientifically determined laws. With regard to painting, which is based on lines and colors, it produces rhythm that can be expansive or contracting: there are, according to Henry, "sad" colors and "cheerful" colors, the cheerful ones being the warm colors--red, orange and yellow--and the sad ones being green, blue and purple.

The lines express the direction of motion, and dynamogenic motion-expansive and pleasure-producing-are those that move upward to the right of the observer, while downward movements to the left produce feelings of displeasure and sadness; they are inhibitory because they conserve energy. Henry writes in his Esthétique scientifique that "the line is an abstraction, the synthesis of two parallel and contrary senses in which it can be described: reality is direction." For the observer of a painting, the set of lines expressed there will give as much an image as the feeling-pleasant or unpleasant-derived from their direction. Image and feeling are immediately linked, but it is not the concrete type of the image represented that is important, so much as the movement that image expresses. One can see how this theory, indifferent to the specificity of the image, fully justifies the legitimacy of abstract art.

Seurat made Henry's principles on the scientific-emotional properties of lines and colors his own and expressed the general concepts of his painting in letter addressed on August 28, 1890 to writer Maurice Beaubourg:


  1. Georges Seurat
  2. Georges Seurat
  3. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 12.
  4. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 150.
  5. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  6. Aujourd'hui rue René-Boulanger dans le dixième arrondissement.
  7. a b c Ingo F. Walther (ed.). La pintura del impresionismo 1860-1920. Italia: Taschen. ISBN 3-8228-8028-0.
  8. Respuesta de Seurat a su amigo Charles Angrand, que había expresado su aprecio por el cuadro Un baño en Asnières.

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