|Georges Seurat, Les Poseuses,1886-1888|
(Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania)
Seurat's work encompasses a lot of tension, between idealized art and modern science, as well as popular culture and elite, high art. Here, the artist's interest in the artistic ideals of the past, is evident thorough how he has incorporated the figures in this painting from known references in traditional art; something his contemporary audience would have immediately recognized.
|Ingres, The Bather of Valpincon, 1808|
The model on the left is taken from Ingres' The Bather of Valpincon, recalling the tradition of the female nude in French art. Seurat has the model seated partially covered with a sheet around her buttocks, facing away from the viewer completely while the Ingres is almost a 3/4 view of a totally nude figure.
|Venus Pudica, Greek 1st C. BC|
The woman standing in the middle is a reference to Venus Pudica ( the modest Venus) a term used for the classical female nude in traditional Western art that is covering her genitalia. One of the most famous works of the ancient Greek sculptor, Praxiteles of Athens, form 4th century B.C. was the Aphrodite of Cnidus which is now lost but the best- known type of this Venus is a copy signed by Menophantos from 1st century BC. This gesture has been used by artists throughout the history of western art including Sandro Botticelli in The Birth of Venus. Seurat recalls this pose but has taken off the drapery and the elongated grace out of the traditional figure.
|Spinario, Boy with Thorn in His Foot, |
Roman marble copy c.25-50
The young woman with the green stockings is taken from Spinario, Boy with Thorn, a statue which was one of the few Roman statues that was not lost; it was a favorite with artists from different generations to reference. Here Seurat has taken the boy and made him a woman and instead of taking a thorn out of his foot, she is putting stockings on her feet.
Seurat was also very interested in the technological advancements of his time. In the late 1870's photographer Eadweard Muybridge was working on capturing figures in motion in a series of photographs. The three different poses recalling Muybridge's works about the human body in motion, could be attributed to Seurat's interest in photography.
The stiff formality of La Grande Jatte, has been softened in Les Poseuses making the figures appear more natural but the tension that is often seen in Seurat's work is present between what is the disarrayed scene before and inside the monumental masterpiece. The whole painting is united by the use of color; the artist's studio that is seen in front of the frame of La Grand Jatte contains the exact same shades of colors that are inside the painting's frame, creating an ambiguous image blurring the difference between the artwork and reality of the studio.
Everything about Les Poseuses, seems to be reinforcing the idea of 'art as artifice.' By using classical idealized elements of traditional art, Seurat has constructed a contemporary, matter-of-fact scene that is taking place in his studio. We can further delve into his motives by looking at the dictionary definition for the word 'Poseuse' which is a person who habitually pretends to be something he is not. This is yet another thought provoking painting by Seurat that is open to many interpretations.