Georges-Pierre Seurat, “Une Baignade, Asniėres (Bathers at Asnières)”, 1884, Oil on Canvas, 201 x 301 cm, National Gallery, London
Born in Paris December 2, 1859, Georges Seurat’s formal training began around 1875, when he entered the local municipal art school under the sculptor Justin Lequien. There, he made a friend of Edmond Aman-Jean, the future Symbolist painter, and together they entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts run by Henri Lehmann, a disciple of the Neo-Classical painter Jean=Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Seurat attended the Academy from February 1878 until November 1879. The curriculum placed particular emphasis on drawing and composition, and most of Seurat’s time was spent sketching from plaster casts and live models. Seurat spent his free time conducting his own artistic studies and frequently visited museums and libraries throughout Paris.
Seurat also sought instruction from the muralist painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, whose specialty was large-scale classical, allegorical scenes. Seurat’s sketches dating to 1874 include copies of Hans Holbein the Younger drawings, a sketch of Nicolas Poussin’s hand from the acclaimed self-portrait in the Louvre, and figures from drawings by Raphael.
Charles Blanc’s 1867 “The Grammar of Painting and Engraving” and Michel-Eugène Chevreul’s 1839 “The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors” introduced Seurat to color theories and the science of optics that became central to his thinking and practice as a painter. Chevreul’s discovery that by juxtaposing complementary colors one could produce the impression of another color became one of the bases for Seurat’s Divisionist technique. Seurat also read Ogden N. Rood’s 1879 “Modern Chromatics”, which proposed that artists should experiment with color contrast by juxtaposing small colored dots to see the visual blending effect.
Seurat began to apply his theoretical research to compositions executed between 1881 and 1884, culminating in his first major painting project, the 1884 “Bathers at Asniéres”. This monumental canvas depicted a group of workers relaxing by the Seine and was based on numerous small oil sketches and figure studies. The final composition is an accomplished rendition of the light and atmosphere of high summer. It is largely rendered in a criss-cross brushstroke technique known as balayé and was later re-touched by Seurat with dots of contrasting color in certain areas.