Between 1881 and 1884, Georges Seurat perfected a personal style of draftsmanship that, while boldly schematic, was magically sensitive to the play of light and shade. Avoiding delineation in favor of a more tonal articulation of forms, he exploited the specific qualities of conté crayon, a drawing material similar to chalk or pastel. When applied to textured paper with varying degrees of pressure, it can leave marks ranging from hazy to opaque. In Seurat’s hands, this medium yielded quietly mysterious images that sometimes resemble emanations from a world of shadows.
Seurat’s twenty surviving drawn studies for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884—there is at least one for every major figure or group in the painting—exemplify the elegance and remoteness of his draftsmanship. In Seated Woman with Parasol, he subtly gradated the woman’s silhouette to distinguish light skin from dark clothing and to suggest illumination from the left, leaving the rest of the page blank to evoke ambient sunlight. The curious patch of dark hovering near the woman’s chest corresponds to a shadow cast by a mother and child in the center of the final painting, indicating that this sheet dates from a rather late stage in its compositional elaboration.
Landscape with Trees, also a study for the Grande Jatte, is one of only three pure landscape studies Seurat is known to have executed in conté crayon. The trunk in the foreground is vaguely anthropomorphic; twisting dramatically, its tensile forms appear to strain toward an implied light. The web of criss-crossing marks used to describe the foliage—a remarkable graphic equivalent to the artist’s closely knit brush strokes—seems to tremble with life. The spacing of vertical forms across the Weld typifies Seurat’s mastery of the judiciously gauged interval, so crucial to the elusive poetry of the final painting.
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