Image courtesy of https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk
Tutor notes regarding feedback are at the end of this blog.
POLITICAL, ECONOMIC OR SOCIAL
France had been through a time of great upheaval by 1884 and was in period called the Third Republic with Jules Grevy as President (1879-87) who was a moderate republican. The Third Republic had been established after French defeat in Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and Napoleon III deposed. By the 1880’s the people of France had accepted the defeat and there was a great time of industrial and economic growth (as there was in England too) and with it came capitalism – this meant that the trades and industries were owned by private individuals rather than the government and were in pursuit of profit. This situation in turn brought materialism too with it. In 1884 the Walbeck-Rousseau law was passed which meant unionism legalised to try and improve the lives of the working class which were precarious at best due this system – unions to protect the workers.
The Bathers at Assnieres are young workmen who were taking their break near the river in an industrial suburb of Paris – the industrial buildings can be seen in the background. The clothes could signify the emerging middle class which came from the working class – the image looks as if it is what Seurat wanted or hoped it would become because it is not that of working class as you would expect and they are resting near an industrial part of the river but rather slightly further away in what appears to be a cleaner area though the description of the painting says otherwise. This scene was painted the same year as the Walbeck-Rousseau law was passed which would again give hope for improved social conditions for the working class. In the background there are signs of the capitalism and wealthy industry owners as on the river there is a boat with a man in a top hat and with the French Flag
CHANGES TO STATUS OR TRAINING OF ARTISTS
Throughout the 1800’s art had begun to get ever more loved by the public. Great artists such as Degas, Cezanne, Monet as well as the great sculpturer Auguste Rodin were well known with some including Degas causing scandals with some artistic works. The changing status of artists was directly reflected with the changing economic and social status and the materialism that came with the capitalism – art lovers were able to buy the art and therefore elevated the artist’s status yet further than just the galleries or museums alone could. Art became affordable for more people.
Artists of the period were not afraid to try new techniques and so develop new styles and movements – the training of many artists being by the prodigies or students of other great artists that went before them. The teaching concentrated on the great works in the Museums and galleries but the new emerging artists had the developments of science and the resulting papers at their fingertips which resulted in the development of the processes outlined above.
The French were very much art loving people and in Paris the area of Montmatre rapidly became the artistic quarter in the early 1880’s and was home to new political ideas and an underground culture – the likes of Renoir, Moreau and Degas lived in the more affluent area.
In Paris at the time there was no one single style in or outside of the exhibition known as the Salon and therefore many learnt the traditional classical painting techniques including studying and copying many of the Old Masters but whilst also studying the Impressionist and developing Post/Neo-Impressionist styles.
In the same period Van Gogh left Paris and headed for Provence with the intention of setting up an artist’s community – it is there he developed his own styles which at times were Realism or Post Impression.
DEVELOPMENT OF MATERIALS AND PROCESSES
Georges Seurat was trained by a student of Ingres called Henri Lehman at the Ecole des Beaux Arts studied works in the Louvre of the great early Italian and 17th Century artists. His style developed a modern approach which combined study of his recent artist forbears, the Impressionists, with studying optics and the theories concerned with colour relationships. The techniques and processes were based on science and lead to the development of pointillism. This process involved literally involved hundreds of tiny dots of pure bright hues which then became blended when seen with the human eye – this technique gave a shimmering effect to the works. The development of the the technique had come about through the then modern writings of colour theory through which the artists of the time started to realise or believe that rather than colour washes, or the layering of colours or mixing of pigments, there was a greater vibrancy in the hues when painted separately in individual strokes or dots. It was a time consuming and precise technique that lead to the shimmering effect of the light on their canvases. The dot technique was known as pointillism and pioneered by Seurat.
The Bathers at Asnieres is very much a transitional piece – the original sketches and studies were done both in conte crayons or oil paint on site and these helped him to decide the composition of the piece. The whole painting is done in oil paints on canvas because he had not yet developed pointillism and later went back to add in some details in contrasting paints to add the shimmer that is so much a part of his later works – when you look closely the individual dots can be seen on areas of the grass or the hat of the boy and in the river.
Photography was in its infancy but beginning to take to the stage from early photographic images being exhibited in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre – the image was produced on a silver coated copper plate with iodine vapours and his colleague was Nicephore Niepce who produced the first negative image in 1816 and the first photographic image in 1826. By 1853 the first photographic studio had opened in Paris.
STYLES & MOVEMENTS
Arts of all genres were rapidly developing through France in the 1800’s. At the turn of the century Napoleon had sanctioned Neo-classical style but by the early decades Romanticism was developing – this influenced by the writers, poets and philosophers. Romanticism concentrated on emotion and nature rather than realism and classic art – softer and literally romantic view (we would class this today as looking through ‘rose coloured spectacles’ at the world).
Later part of 1800’s had seen the Impressionist movement which focused on landscapes and urban or suburban scenes that were echoes of modern life. The Impressionists worked with loose brushstrokes in bright colours which were often finished outside. In response to this a group of painters developed a style that was more structured in order to depict modern life – this style known as Post or Neo Impressionism. At the forefront of this style was Georges Seurat.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE INFLUENCES
Georges Seurat trained with classical techniques like many of his contemporaries and also studied the works of the Impressionists which was the movement and style at the time of his training. Like others though he was influenced by the scientific and industrialisation of the world at the time and the papers on optics the aforesaid studies of colour – these were without doubt the greatest influences of the time and on Seurat’s development of his technique of pointillism.
The influence of the Old Masters is evident in the Bathers at Asnieres as it recalls “paintings by the Renaissance artist Piero del Francesco” (www.nationalgallery.org.uk) due to the simple forms of the figures and regularity of some shapes along with how they are highlighted. In the same article that attaches to this painting there is the suggestion that Seurat may have been influenced by Egyptian art too – there was an Egyptian revival period in England in the 1800’s and with the movement of artists, philosophers, writers and painters this would then explain why he chose to paint the figures in profile as opposed to portrait style with them facing directly.
The Egyptian influence reoccurred again in the Art Nouveau style that followed so it is highly likely it was beginning to surface with the Neo-Impressionists too.
CRITICS, THINKERS AND HISTORIANS
The very first art critic to use the term Neo-Impressionism was Felix Feneon and the term was then applied style that was primarily in France from 1886 to 1906 although the Bathers was painted in 1884 and was at the very start of the movement.
There were 2 critics or authors around 1886 who published books: one Jean Moreas published a “Symbolist manifesto” (www.metmuseum.org/toah/ – third paragraph on 1886) in a periodical called Le Figaro which “argues for the aesthetic that rejects naturalism in favour of the subjective world of the dreams, nuances and the imagination” – the painter Moreau was one such Symbolist and whose works use imagery, spiritual values and emotion or reflect an idea rather than the natural world of the Realism or Impressionist art. Whereas in the same year (www.metmuseum.org./toah/ first paragraph on 1886) Emile Zola wrote a novel that addressed aesthetic issues of that time. He [corrected from she] directly rejected the almost traditional contemporary painting in favour of the view that the artist should show his personality through his work – she was an admirer of Eduoard Manet who was a Naturalist painter. However in her novel she based the character on an actual artist who had been a childhood friend and who subsequently recognised himself and consequently the fallout meant they never spoke again – the artist was Paul Cezanne who was one such contemporary artist in the fields of Neo-Impressionism, Cubism, Impressionism and Modern Art. Zola had written that the artist was a failure and committed suicide.
The views of the critics or thinkers clearly opposed each other and there is an argument here that it is because the art scene of the time was so varied and no predominant style was apparent in Paris.
The following are corrections and notes suggested by my tutor during feedback on this assignment which can be seen at:
- The proximity of Seurat’s palette to that of Delacroix.
- Seurat rendered his forms in a blocky simplicity – embodied ‘monumentality of Millet and the geometric idealization of the classicizing tradition passed onto him by his school training’ (quoted from tutor report: https://theinquisitivebunny47.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/tutor-feedback-assignment-1/:)
- I was advised to consider the development of Seurat’s technique whereby the brush was used to apply colour in crisscross formation of strokes – known as the balaye technique – the painting was not pointillist painting as my tutor points out the fact that Seurat did not develop the technique until after this work was completed.
- My tutor suggested reflecting on the rejection of the painting by the Paris Salon in 1884 – this I understand now through my reading of World History of Art and there is an alternative suggestion of researching scholarly comments regarding the critics/thinkers/historians on this art work.
Art Institute Chicago. (date unknown). Introduction: Seurat’s Final Study for “The Bathers at Asnieres” [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015]. Available from: http://www.artic.edu/aic/resources/resource/411
Jones, J. (15 April 2010) Georges Seurat – Bathers at Asnieres loosen up and look again [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2010/apr/14/george-seurat-bathers-at-asnieres-art –
National Gallery. 2016. Bathers at Asnieres [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015. Available from: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/georges-seurat-bathers-at-asnieres