Seurat produced many oil sketches and drawings as studies for his monumental painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte of 1884–6 (Art Institute of Chicago). Many of these concentrate on the landscape but others, including this one, focus on the scale and position of figures within the final picture.
Here we see a man standing rigidly, reduced to his essential outline with no incidental detail. Seurat had already included him in an earlier oil sketch, and he appears in the final painting where he is accompanied by an elegantly dressed woman. Like most of the people in the Grande Jatte, he is shown in profile as he looks straight ahead at the river. He wears a black top hat, a long grey jacket or coat and dark trousers, which identify him as a member of the middle or upper classes and, perhaps, as a dandy. He also holds what might be a walking cane or a furled umbrella and what may be a folded blanket or groundsheet.
Seurat produced many sketches and drawings as studies for his monumental painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte of 1884–6 (Art Institute of Chicago). Many of these concentrate on the landscape but others, including this one, focus on the figures, either individually or as groups. In these figure studies, the landscape often functions as a stage set within which Seurat experiments with the scale and position of people who will eventually populate the final painting.
In this study, we see a man standing on the right. A few other less-defined people can be seen in the background. Reduced to his essential outline and with no incidental detail, he has the appearance of a cut-out paper figure placed on the canvas. Like most of the people in the Grande Jatte, we see him in profile as he looks straight ahead at the river. Seurat had already introduced this man in an earlier oil sketch (Art Institute of Chicago), positioned on the far right-hand edge, and he appears in the final painting. His size and location in this sketch are close to the final picture, but there he is accompanied by an elegantly dressed woman. As she stands to his left, she partly blocks our view of him, although his face and the front of his body are still visible. In this sketch, he wears a black top hat, a long grey jacket or coat and dark trousers, clothes which he wears in the final painting and which identify him as a member of the middle or upper classes and, perhaps, as a dandy. He also holds what might be a walking cane or a furled umbrella and what may be a folded blanket or groundsheet. In the final picture, however, he is clearly carrying a cane under his left arm, which now points upwards to the right, and he holds a cigar in his right hand. It is his female companion who carries an umbrella, which she has opened to shield herself from the sun.
As in the Grande Jatte, the large grassy area fills most of the picture. Seurat has divided this between a shaded foreground (with a preponderance of blue alongside a dark green) and a sunlit middle area (where a golden-yellow is combined with a light green). Compared to the other Study for ‘La Grande Jatte’ in the National Gallery’s collection, there is a reduced range of colours. As Seurat had not yet fully developed the pointillist technique he used in the painitng itself, the sketch may date to 1884–5.
It is possible that Seurat painted this study in the studio rather than on location. As in many of the sketches and paintings he made along this area of the river Seine, he attends to the interplay between the horizontal and vertical lines offered by the location, which provided a ready-made architecture or grid within which he could arrange individual elements. Here the man’s rigid upright pose, which gives him the look of a tailor’s mannequin, forms a strong vertical that visually rhymes with the trees.
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