Monday, April 25, 2011

Impressionist's Response to Seurat's Pointillism

Georges Seurat began his career as an impressionist concerned with the effects of light but later went on to reform it and approach Impressionism in a whole new perspective, as a result of which being referred to as a Neo-Impressionist.  He incorporated scientific theories into his art and surpassed the momentariness of his contemporaries and built canvases that would recall the treasures of the past from the art of the  Egyptians to the friezes of the Parthenon.  Some people loved his work while a lot of the Impressionists despised it.  His stilted, frozen figures were severely criticized by Monet who went on to paint a series of paintings as a response to Seurat to get beyond Impressionism.

Camille Pissaro, Apple Picking, 1886
(Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Okayama, Japan)

Pissaro, on the other hand embraced Seurat's Pointillism and announced that Impressionism had become rancid, too romantic, stale, old and dried up.  He incorporated Seurat's technique into classical Pissaro subject matter in Apple Picking from 1886.

Camille Pissaro, The Boulevard Montmarte on  a Winter Morning, 1897
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

But by 1897, after working in this manner for a couple of years, he was back to the Impressionistic style because he realized Seurat's style was too static.  Pissaro thought that it was not possible to capture the momentariness, the colors or the effects of Impressionism with Pointillism.

Monet and Renoir were especially upset with Seurat's work.  Claude Monet who had not done much of figure painting since his earlier days, suddenly did monumental figures in landscapes.  He found Seurat's figures too static so he painted figures full of dynamism with everything in motion as a response to A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.  He achieved this by color, using oranges, yellows and blues, plus with his vigorous brush work.  The clouds are moving, the grass is swaying, the figure's dress and scarf is fluttering in the wind.

Claude Monet, Study of a Figure Outside:  Woman with a Parasol Turned to the Left and Turned to the Right, 1886

                 These paintings are Monet's critique of Seurat's figures in A Sunday at Le Grand Jatte.

Around this time Monet had decided to broaden his and Impressionism's horizons outside of just Paris and its environs.  He traveled out to different regions of France and painted numerous canvases on subjects of his interest - weather and light effects, clouds, crashing waves - the drama of nature. As he traveled throughout the country to Etrerat, Grand-Camp, Belle Ille, and Antibes, and documented the French countryside, Monet's desire to proclaim his and Impressionism's association with the French nation as a whole, came into realization.

During his travels Monet revisited destinations that were main tourist attractions and also were painted by Georges Seurat in his pointillist technique, and reworked these subjects in pure Impressionist style.

Claude Monet, Cliff Walk at Pourville, 1882
(Art Institute of Chicago)

Georges Seurat, La Bec du Hoc, Grancamp, 1885
(Tate Gallery, London)

While in Monet's Cliff Walk at Pourville, even the grass is moving and there is no clear edge, in Seurat's Le Bec du Hoc, the edges are clearly defined and the birds in the air, the only living thing on the canvas look still.
Claude Monet, Rocks at Belle Isle, 1886
(Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow)

When Monet was painting these rocks in a spot that is a little bit father down the coast from where Seurat made his painting in Grancamp,  Monet must have been thinking of him.  The deep blue and violet tones of the water shows the dynamism of the sea and how dangerous the coast is. Monet uses the same tones he uses in the water, in the rock formations along with yellow and orange to emphasize the light effects. Interestingly enough, Seurat also uses yellow and oranges for his light effects but without any of Monet's dynamism.

Monet talked about the difficulties he was having during his stay in Belle Isle, in his letters to Alice Hoschede and his friends.   The canvases he produced in Belle Isle had no trace of humanity, only earth, sky and sea.  He wrote about the crashing waves and the mist and how difficult it was to paint in these conditions, creating the myth of Monet as the artist who was deeply and personally involved with nature.  Although, Monet actually would finish his paintings in his studio.  By concentrating on the weather and light conditions, in specific sites, Monet proved the lengths he could go to in Impressionism and the exacting depiction of natural phenomenon.
His Belle Ille paintings were the first of his series paintings where he used a standard format for all the canvases and concentrated on a limited motif, and exhibited several together as a group.  These were the predecessor of his famous Grain Stacks series.

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