The present work is an emblematic Impressionist depiction of modern leisure activities. Beyond their inherent beauty, works like À l’harmonie serve as windows into the complexities of the rapidly changing world in which they depict. Reminiscent of George Seurat’s Un Dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte (see fig. 1), the figures in À l'harmonie appear totally motionless despite their active engagement in their respective activities. Transfixed, it is almost as if they are sculptures deliberately placed across the canvas. Robert L. Herbert’s description of Un Dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte may similarly be applied to À l’harmonie: both artists “treated the park as a stage across which he could position a variety of persons strolling or at rest. From these self-administered auditions…[they] eventually selected the performer of [the] Sunday ritual, combining the functions of both playwright and director…[the paintings] should be seen as an artifice devoted to a social institution in a contrived setting: parks are not ‘nature,’ but rather artificial stages for human action” (quoted in Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte (exhibition catalogue), Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2004, p. 96).
It is through his adept use of color that Morren brings À l’harmonie to life, employing the divisionist technique to create a scene of shimmering light and color. Color theory was first explored in the 1839 publication Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors by Michel-Eugène Chevreul, in which he found that colors change perceptually in tone and composition when seen simultaneously based on the placement and proximity of their contrast. Divisionism thence drew upon these studies by separating different colors into isolated brushstrokes of pure pigment, a technique that ultimately revolutionized the artist’s ability to bring light and brightness to a scene.
Morren draws from Impressionist masterpieces such as Monet’s Jardin à Sainte-Adresse (see fig. 2), employing Monet’s pioneering explorations into divisionist technique and Seurat’s Pointillist light innovations through the direct juxtaposition of color. À l’harmonie builds upon these advances through further explorations into color and how it interacts. Ultimately creating a piece that appears to be fully illuminated with glittering light, it is almost as if it were backlit or flecked with small pieces of gold. By strategically placing varying sizes of yellow dabs across green, black, white and red backgrounds, Morren creates a pulsating sensation across the entire canvas.
These innovations in light and color, also explored by Morren’s contemporaries, came to influence later generations of artists such as Gustav Klimt in works like Bauerngarten (Blumengarten) (see fig. 3). An ornate garden scene created through the use of varying sizes of brightly colored circular strokes would later transform gold leaf. These chromatic and stylistic techniques pioneered by Morren were hugely important to later generations of artists who were able to imbue their output with the personality of their subjects and the colorful vibrancy of modernity.
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