Abstract Canvas Prints No 64 : Mathematical Precision
Durand-Ruel took the picture to America as part of his highly successful 1886 exhibition, ‘Works in Oil and Pastel by the Impressionists of Paris’.
It wasn’t the most popular work on display.
The New York Times described ‘Bathing’ as ‘among the most distressing painting shown….the blazing colours offering special offence’.
Another American critic considered it the work of ‘a vulgar, course and commonplace mind’.
Now that was a bit harsh.
For someone so young to have his work shown alongside the reverend and seasoned Impressionists was a remarkable achievement.
As was Bathers at Asnieres.
It represents a starting-point on an artist journey that Seurat was undertaking, which would end with his famous Pointillist (also known as Divisionist) paintings, made from applying multiple dots of pure pigment to the canvas.
At the time of Bathers at Asnieres, he had not yet arrived at his colour-separation technique, but he was well on the way.
The white shirts, sails and buildings are all in the service of Seurat’s overall design, they are there to bring to vivid life the colours around them, making the greens, blues and reds vibrant.
He is beginning to work out that the more he separates the colours, the greater sense of brilliance they radiate.
Hence the large canvas, it gave more room for his colours to ‘breathe’.
Science was changing the lives of Parisians back in the 1880s, with Gustave Eiffel’s extraordinary tower of iron symbolising the city’s completed transformation from the Dickensian shambles to a modern masterpiece built on mathematical precision.
Seurat was simpatico with the prevailing mood, he too believed everything could be explained by science, even when it came to my making art.
He was a Delacroix fan, and shared the romantic artist’s interest in colour theory.
But while Delacroix experimented through trial and error, Seurat’s approach was more akin to that of a casting director.
He wanted to know the character of the different colours in order to give him an understanding of how they would get along living side-by-side in the confines of a canvas. There was plenty of expert advice to hand.