Thursday, April 21, 2011

Georges Seurat - Le Chahut

Georges Seurat, Le Chahut, 1889-1890
(Kroller-Mueller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands)

Charles Henry, a French biologist and philosopher wrote a book Introduction to a Scientific Aesthetics that theorized psychological and physiological implications of color and line.  According Henry's theory, lines moving in an upward direction were suggestive of happiness, while lines moving downwards suggested sadness and warm color moving from blue-green to red (including green, yellow and orange) were pleasing and uplifting while cool colors moving from red to blue-green (including blue, purple) resulted in feelings of sadness.

Georges Seurat was familiar with Henry's theories and believed that art was harmony which was an analogy of contrary and similar elements of tone, color and line. When considered in this light, Le Chahut, can be regarded as a painting about the psychological effects of color and line.  The canvas is made up of  predominantly warm colors, orangy reds and some yellow(that changed in the years after it was painted.)  All the lines in the painting are moving upwards causing an uplifting mood. Except for the one linear line  in the left side of the canvas everything is at diagonals. The girls' and men's legs, their facial features, men's mustaches even the ribbons on their shoes and shoulders seems to be have taken flight upwards. The Base player in the front of the picture plane  with his back turned, connects the painting with its frame, he forms a huge triangle that grounds the composition.  There is also an orchestra chef and an audience that goes around the stage who are following the show.  The viewer is behind the orchestra, similar to some of Degas' ballet paintings.  The other prominent figure in the painting is the man with a pug-nose who is sitting on the right side of the painting. His features recall a satyr's, making the viewer aware of the an underlying seedy, sexualized behavior taking place. As a matter of fact, it does look like he is looking up the skirts of the dancer in front of him. Satyr's were supposed to have an insatiable appetite for sex.

This is the scene of a tacky entertainment that was in one of the establishments that was being frequented by the newly emerging lower and middle classes.  It is a chorus line of men and women doing the high kick, as opposed to the opera or the ballet.  It also is a good example of the influence of popular culture on Seurat's work recalling Jules Cheret's posters that were all over Paris at the time.  In Le Chahut, Seurat has taken all the elements that interested him from the contemporary culture and redefined it all in his own terms of geometry, color and harmony.  

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