1884WHERE CAN I SEE IT? National GalleryI LIKE IT
See also 'Mont Sainte-Victoire with a Large Pine
Georges Seurat took all that spontaneous impressionist daubing and applied a cool, scientist’s eye. ‘Bathers’ represents the very peak of nineteenth-century optical and colour theory committed to canvas; Seurat built forms out of contrasting dots of pure colour. And it’s surprisingly expressive – conjuring fluctuations of heat, smoke and the coolness of water. The style was dubbed pointillism (though Seurat thought of his style as divisionism and, perhaps confusingly, it was also termed ‘neo-impressionism’ by art critic Félix Fénéon). This is a radically modern scene – workers on their lunch break – made timeless, monumental.
Who is that boy calling out to? Speculation takes us across the Atlantic, to the Art Institute of Chicago and ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’ (1884), the scene Seurat painted on the other side of the Seine. We may have the marginally less famous painting in London: no one has written a musical about ‘Bathers’ (Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ is inspired by ‘A Sunday Afternoon…’), nor has it featured in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. Yet, while Chicago’s painting depicts the bourgeoisie with their pretentious pets (a monkey on a lead) lurking in the shadows, we have honest workers and righteous sunlight on our side.