SEURAT, Georges
(b. 1859, Paris, d. 1891, Paris)

Bathers at Asnières

1883-84
Oil on canvas, 201 x 300 cm
National Gallery, London

The Bathers at Asnières, at two by three metres a demonstratively large work, was Seurat's first programmatic picture. The location was not far out, like Argenteuil or Bougival, but close to newly built factories. There was no restaurant, and those who bathed there went because the rail fare to Argenteuil was too expensive. Fourteen surviving oil studies and a number of drawings show how meticulously Seurat prepared the painting. The atmosphere one of hazy brightness, the sky and water almost constitute a single colour continuum, which powerfully diminishes the spatiality of the work. The figures look exhausted, their three-dimensionality has an inflated look, and the outlines of the colour zones are sharp. These outlines are not marked by actual lines, though, but solely by the different colours of tiny brush-strokes or by an aura of light.

The scientifically precise rendering of colours of this carefree genre scene and sunny landscape admittedly introduces a disquieting note of ornamentality, involving as it does the uncompromising use of a technique that has no time for unimportant details.