Final Study of Bathers at Asnières by Georges Seurat
We live in a world where true happiness is hidden behind Instagram filters. People no longer want to show you their real life and surroundings. They want to show what you want to see.
Well Seurat had quite similar first world problems.
He was an artist living in a world where every other artist wanted to draw beautiful and romantic paintings of women bathing in water and women coming out of water.
He looked at all these paintings and said – Wait, a minute, this looks fake and imaginary. I only see working class men relaxing near water. Shouldn’t someone take on the responsibility of depicting the actual scene at the banks of a river?
So, he decided to do it himself (and in quite a big way). He took a 6.5 feet by 10 feet canvas and painted the middle working class relaxing at the banks of River Siene. And that’s how we got the masterpiece - Bathers at Asnières.
Since the painting was so huge, Seuarat did several sketches and studies of the subjects before he painted it on the big canvas. This painting, is the final study Bathers at Asnières before Seurat replicated it on the canvas.
About Bathers at Asnières
Seurat was at the very forefront of post impressionist movement as he challenged the very notions of impressionism.
A single glance at this painting might make it seem ‘ordinary’ but once you learn the efforts that went behind it, you begin to appreciate its beauty.
First and foremost, Seurat wasn’t a spontaneous artist like many of his contemporaries. He did not just take his easel to a café like Van Gogh and painted a masterpiece. He was a perfectionist and he believed in pure and simple hard work.
It took Seurat a total of 14 oil sketches and 10 drawings to create this beauty, and that to me is just astonishing.
Let’s start with the fact that how easily Seurat is able to depict summer in the painting. Everyone is shedding off their clothes or wearing hats. The clothes pay a special role here, especially the ones on the ground because they were typical of the working class.
But my favourite part is the slight summer haze in the trees, which you can see when you zoom really in.
Seurat also finds an amazing way of depicting smoke – Much like in real life, the smoke in the painting slips into nothingness.
There is also a subtle ‘shade’ to the upper classes, as Seurat paints a small boat in the background with a man in a top hat and woman with an umbrella enjoying the ride while someone else rows the boat.
Seurat also variations of Chevreul’s law of Simultaneous Contrast in his paintings to make the objects stand out. Basically, it’s the phenomenon of light which makes objects stand out from each other.
This can be easily seen when we look closely at the boy in the water. All around his figure, Seurat lightened the edges to make the boy stand out (You can also see this effect in other people as you zoom in)
And last but not the least, the great Georges Seurat invented pointillism, which is the technique of painting the entire object with millions of small dots. Several of his contemporaries adopted this technique including Paul Signac and Vincent Van Gogh. In fact, he even ended up inspiring modern artists like Andy Warhol.
But, no one does it like Seurat.
While this painting was done by him before he invented pointillism, we can still see it in bits and pieces.
Much like his contemporaries, Seurat’s work wasn’t immediately appreciated. When his painting was showcased in an exhibition for the first time, it failed to garner any attention because it was so ginormous that it had to be kept in the beer hall.
What the Bathers at Asnières means to me
This painting screams ambition and organization to me. Seurat is a shining example that if you sub-divide your tasks and make a clear plan of how you want to execute things then nothing is really impossible, not even a 10 feet painting.
He knew he was drawing a masterpiece when he did this, and he gave it his all. He didn’t even care when his painting got bad reviews and didn’t get accepted in the Salon (a major who’s who club of the French artists).
He knew in his head this was a perfection, and that’s what really mattered.
In a way Seurat was a genius who inspired a whole another generation of artists. Sadly, he died too soon at the age of 31, but his legacy lives by.