Georges Seurat: The Art of Vision

Georges Seurat: The Art of Vision

Language: English

Pages: 235

ISBN: 0300208359

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This revelatory study of Georges Seurat (1859–1891) explores the artist’s profound interest in theories of visual perception and analyzes how they influenced his celebrated seascape, urban, and suburban scenes. While Seurat is known for his innovative use of color theory to develop his pointillist technique, this book is the first to underscore the centrality of diverse ideas about vision to his seascapes, figural paintings, and drawings. Michelle Foa highlights the importance of the scientist Hermann von Helmholtz, whose work on the physiology of vision directly shaped the artist’s approach. Foa contends that Seurat’s body of work constitutes a far-reaching investigation into various modes of visual engagement with the world and into the different states of mind that visual experiences can produce. Foa’s analysis also brings to light Seurat’s sustained exploration of long-standing and new forms of illusionism in art. Beautifully illustrated with more than 140 paintings and drawings, this book serves as an essential reference on Seurat. 

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changing. But while the general subject matter of the Grande Jatte falls within the domain of Impressionist imagery, many other aspects of the painting, from its composition and spatial structure, 65 figuring out vision to Seurat’s working process and pointillist technique, down to the very title of the painting, stand in direct, even explicit, opposition to the Impressionists’ ostensible embrace of the fleeting and the spontaneous in perception and representation. One often overlooked

trying to depict objects as colored spots, having no other contour than the vague delimitation that they project onto the retina.” I would supplement Hennequin’s claim by arguing that, while the pointillist dots might indeed represent pure sensory information, the synthesis of these paint marks into a legible composition parallels the synthesis by the brain of discrete units of optical information and the memory of tactile experiences to form the perception of legible spaces and objects. Marcel

connections among the paintings are much more tenuous than in his subsequent series. Nevertheless, this first series has a good deal in common with his later seascapes with respect to the concerns at work in these images. Although each of the Grandcamp paintings portrays a different aspect of the town and coastline, one notices that the works share similar compositional features when looked at as a group. In all five paintings the meeting of sea and sky at the horizon line plays a central role.

Seurat began painting some of his frames and borders dark blue or gray, as seen in Parade, Young Woman Powdering Herself (see fig. 88), Chahut, and Circus. Accordingly, several critics described the borders of Young Woman and Chahut as “gray” or “gray-blue” when they were exhibited in early 1890, and the frames and borders of works in subsequent exhibitions were also identified as “dark” or “violet.”8 In other words, while Seurat’s borders and frames were always darker than the paintings they

body, and mind of the subject, illustrating precisely the mode of experience that Helmholtz argued was necessary for making cognitive sense of our surroundings. As I argued in previous chapters, Seurat juxtaposed this productive form of physical and mental engagement with the outside world with a corporeally and cognitively passive state, in which the subject assumes a more spectatorial relationship to external phenomena. It is the former mode of experience that is almost everywhere illustrated

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