Mme Ernestine Seurat, France (the artist’s mother; acquired from the above)
Henri de Régnier, Paris (a gift from the above in 1892)
Marie de Regnier, Paris (widow of the above. Sold: Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Etude Ader, circa 1965-68 (no catalogue))
Nourhan Manoukian, Paris, (purchased at the above sale)
Private collection, Paris (by descent from the above in 1993)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Seurat (exhibition catalogue), Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1991, mentioned p. 203
Seurat's uniquely evocative technique as a draughtsman was developed early in his career, and became a crucial mode of expression for the young artist. As Robert Herbert has observed: ‘By 1882, Seurat had created his unique style of drawing in which individual lines have disappeared in favour of large shadowy masses. He moulded his velvety forms by delicately rubbing the rough textured paper with a greasy conté crayon, and by using the end of the crayon to form an even more dense scumble of lines which finally merged into greys and blacks’ (R. Herbert, Seurat: Paintings and Drawings (exhibition catalogue), The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1958). Seurat’s method had been greatly influenced by the aesthetic theories of Charles Blanc and Humbert de Superville who had published studies explaining how the direction of lines, associated with colours, could elicit different emotions in the viewer. According to Blanc, linear directions are ‘unconditional signs’ of emotion. Ascending lines are linked to feelings of joy and life, and, by association, expansion and voluptuousness. Using these theories as a foundation, Seurat developed a technique characterised by subtle tonal variations. Shapes are never defined, contours never drawn, figures are rendered through expressive shadowing of carefully modulated density, described thus by Gustave Kahn in 1929: ‘Seurat’s originality manifests itself through the simplified silhouettes of the figures and by the varying intensity of dark shadows which appear, as they move further away from the figures, to melt into white and black. One of the characteristics of Seurat’s drawings is that they are composed less for the sake of line than for atmosphere’ (G. Kahn, quoted in The Drawings of Georges Seurat 1859-1891, New York, 1971, p. ix).
In the present work, the youthful form of the bather emerges from the midst of a dense haze of obsidian darkness – as Gustave Kahn put it: ‘modelled by means of the atmosphere’ (ibid., p. ix). The painter Henri-Edmond Cross recalled a conversation with Seurat in which he emphasised that ‘his vision made him conceive of values before lines’ and that it never occurred to him to ‘begin a canvas with a line’ (“Inédits d’Henri-Edmond Cross - V”, Bulletin de la vie artistique, Paris, 15th September 1922). By applying this method to drawing, the artist achieved outstanding contrasts of dark and light, which would lead critics to hail him as a worthy successor to Rembrandt, the clair-obscuriste par excellence (Charles Blanc, Grammaire des Arts du dessin, Paris, 1886, Chapter XII). At close inspection, the intensity of the manner in which the crayon is applied defines the figure with so little distinction between the body and the background that the figure becomes diffuse. At a distance, Seurat’s masterful technique allows previously indiscernible details to emerge. This phenomenon recalls the optic principles of Michel-Eugène Chevreul and Eugène Rood, which were at the root of Neo-Impressionism. Seurat strove to integrate these ideas not only into his paintings but also into his drawings, where he replaces colours with an infinite variety of shades of grey; the textured, granular effect of his drawings recalling the powdery haze of his Pointillist oils.
After Seurat’s death, his mother, counselled by some of his friends, gave a number of his works to artists, writers and critics who had supported him. The present drawing was given to Henri-François-Joseph de Régnier, the writer and art critic. Régnier was a gifted poet, who wrote symbolist poems and texts in the so-called ‘Parnassian’ manner, which undertook classical subjects and rendered them in flawless verse. In a letter dated March 1892, Henri de Régnier thanks Mme Seurat for the gift: ‘M. Luce has given me one of your son’s drawings, and this keepsake, from an artist of such great virtue and such noble character, is precious to me. I will keep it with the memory of him whose loss has saddened all who knew him and were aware of the bright future which has been interrupted’ (translated from French). Maximilien Luce was one of the compilers of Seurat’s studio inventory along with Félix Féneon and Paul Signac. The reverse of the sheet bears the inscription ‘366 Baignade’, which corresponds to the inventory of the artist's ‘Croquis et dessins’ . The present work remained in the Régnier family until 1965.
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