a







Dictionary of Art and Artists













Paintings


that Changed the World


 

  CONTENTS:          
  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  
             








From Lascaux to Warhol






Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats


 

 

 


The Heat of a Summer's Day
 

Anyone for a swim?

 

 

The summer spreads far and wide, despotic, colourless, heavy - as if a king with nothing better to do had inflicted the pains of death - in the white-hot glare of heaven which tightly ensnares you, and yawns. Liberated, Man left his work and rested.

Paul Verlaine, Allegoria, 1884

 

 

In Bathers at Asnieres not a cloud disturbs the relentless blue sky. The air and water shimmer in the oppressive heat, and motionless stillness smoulders. Only the boy in the water seems to be making a sound. Is he imitating the boat siren, as has been suggested by some art historians? Or is he shouting to a friend further out in the river?

Seurat was always a painter of summertime and summer light. He often travelled to the countryside to sketch men and women harvesting gram, peasants mowing fields with scythes, and labourers paving roads. Born in Paris in 1859, Seurat was one of the greatest painters of Post-Impressionism: his work shows the mark of the Impressionists' fascination with light but he took their ideas in a new direction. He developed a painting technique called Pointillism which relied on the optical mixing of colours. When a work was seen from a distance, the small dots of colour which made up the painting, blended together to create a lively, painterly surface.

It was summer when the poet Gustave Kahn visited the artist in his cramped studio in Boulevard de Clichy. Seurat was in the process of completing a painting, and Kahn observed that he "worked so energetically, despite the oppressive heat and humidity, that by the end of the day the artist was thinner than when he began". Seurat was a loner, an extremely serious and taciturn person. The artist Edgar Degas used to call him "the solicitor" because he was always formally dressed and wore a top hat. At the same time every evening "the solicitor" could be seen leaving his flat, striding purposefully towards the Boulevard Magenta to die with his parents.

Seurat enjoyed spending time at the waterfront and was a frequent visitor to the wooded island of La Grande Jatte on the Seine, a popular outing destination for the Paris bourgeoisie. His excursions took him as far as Asnieres-sur-Seine, located about five kilometres north-west of Paris. During Seurat's lifetime, factory smokestacks already marked the Asnieres skyline, as can be seen in Bathers at Asnieres, and it was far from an ideal place to bathe. As long ago as 14 February 1790, when the royal medical Counsellor Boncerf tested the water he was overcome by a "biting, pungent alkaline stench that impaired his respiratory system to such an extent that his throat and tongue swelled mightily". Until recently the Parisians' "favourite wench" was so polluted with sulphur and other toxic waste that, at a depth of one metre, divers were unable to see their hands when held directly in front of their eyes. For several years now the waste from the vast city is treated in modern sewage plants and there are hopes that Parisians might one day be able to bathe again in the Seine — enjoying it more than they did when Seurat was alive.

 


Georges Seurat
(1859—1891)
Bathers at Asnieres
1883
 

 

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