This panel was most likely painted in 1885 and relates to a medium-size canvas, The Seine at Courbevoie (now in a private collection in Paris). Seurat may have painted it before he decided to produce a finished picture of this particular view of the river, or it may be a preparatory study.
The vertical format is unusual for Seurat, but it allowed him to construct the composition as a series of stacked horizontal bands formed by the foreground, the river, the far riverbank and the houses and trees of Courbevoie in the distance.
Painting on location, he worked rapidly, leaving traces of the bare wood of the panel visible between the brushstrokes. Although he had developed his pointillist technique of painting in small dots of colour by 1885, his debt to Impressionism can be seen in the large fluid strokes of unmixed colour, particularly on the water. Seurat modified them according to the object or surface they describe.
Between 1882 and 1886 Seurat made more than 100 identically sized landscape studies. These panels look like they were painted on site, and follow the long-established tradition of the plein-air oil sketch. Many were preparatory studies for his first two monumental paintings – Bathers at Asnières (1884) and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884–6, Art Institute of Chicago). After the exhibition of the Grande Jatte, Seurat continued to work occasionally in the adjacent suburbs of Courbevoie and Asnières in north-west Paris, the setting for both paintings.
This panel was most likely painted in 1885 and relates to a medium-size canvas, The Seine at Courbevoie (private collection, Paris). It may have preceded Seurat’s decision to paint this particular view of the river, or it may be a preparatory study for the painting. The vertical format is unusual for Seurat, but it allowed him to arrange the composition as a series of stacked horizontal bands formed by the foreground, the river, the far riverbank and the houses and trees of Courbevoie in the distance. Although we are looking across the water towards the opposite riverbank some distance away, these lateral bands reduce the effect of spatial depth and atmospheric recession, as does the placing of the sky near the very top of the picture. The bands are, however, counterbalanced by the continuous vertical of the tree trunk on the right and the shorter vertical of the standing woman on the left, her brown dress partly echoing the darker brown of the tree. Although Seurat has focused on the landscape in this sketch, many of its components are reiterated from the Grande Jatte – for example, the river Seine and its grassy bank, a standing female figure, the emphatic vertical of the tree and the high skyline.
A focus on the underlying structure of the scene is a feature of Seurat’s art, but his application of the paint softens the geometry of the composition. Although Seurat had developed his pointillist technique by 1885, his debt to Impressionism is still evident here, and the freshness of his brushwork especially recalls the earlier work of Monet and Pissarro. Seurat worked rapidly, leaving traces of the bare wood of the panel visible between the brushstrokes. Unlike in some of his sketches, he has not built up the brushwork in layers, although some areas are more densely worked (for example, the roof tops where the colours have mixed together while still wet). The individual strokes themselves are relatively large and fluid, unlike the tighter, more uniform brushwork of pointillism, and are laid down as clean, unmixed colours. Seurat has also modified them according to the object or surface they describe. For example, he has used horizontal lozenge-like strokes for the shimmering water (which recall Monet’s brushwork in Bathers at La Grenouillère), shorter, choppier strokes for the grass and foliage, and longer, sinuous strokes for the tree trunk. The pale yellows and whites used throughout much of the painting create an effect of warm sunlight and contrast with the dark border formed by the tree and the touches of dark green at the very bottom of the picture.
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