Seurat and the Bathers
When Seurat first exhibited his Bathers at Asnieres in 1884, it perplexed but fascinated the few critics who noticed it. Today the picture is one of the most famous and popular works in the world. Yet the extraordinary appeal of this painting is not easily defined. In several respects it seems to belong to the world of the Impressionists, with its luminous color and lively brushwork evoking the hot, hazy atmosphere of a summer afternoon. By contrast, the gravity of the figures and the ordered serenity of the composition place it within the classical tradition, echoing both the rigor of the Academy and the grandeur of Poussin or Puvis de Chavannes. In Seurat and the Bathers the directors discuss the various choices Seurat made with regard to subject, format, and technique in preparing this monumental painting. They relate Seurat’s working methods — the preparatory oil sketches and drawings — and the painting’s physical nature — color, brushwork, and surface — to his academic training, his study of optical theory, the development of his distinctive drawing style, and his early interest in plein-air oil sketching and Impressionism. Stylistically, Seurat responded to the French tradition of monumental figure painting and also to contemporary artists, arriving at a paradoxical but subtle new synthesis. Finally the film discusses the subject matter of the Bathers in relation to other nineteenth-century representations of middle and working-class life and leisure activities in the Parisian suburbs.