Art Study: Gauguin, Cezanne, Seurat

Spring 2002 Term 3 Art Study

by Lee-Anne Penny

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903)

1. The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with an Angel) 1888; Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm (28 3/4 x 36 1/4 in) National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

Web Museum Copy(Click on thumbnail image for an exploded view.)
Small copy of best image- Large size (1000x795) and Medium Size (750x597) available to members with a annual charitable contribution

2. Matamoe 1892; Oil on fine canvas, 115 x 86 cm (45 1/4 x 33 7/8 in) Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Alternate Painting:
Femmes de Tahiti [Sur la plage] (Tahitian Women [On the Beach]) (Scroll down and click on thumbnail painting for an exploded view.) 1891; (150 Kb); Oil on canvas, 69 x 91 cm (27 1/8 x 35 7/8 in) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Paul Cezanne (France, 1839-1906)

1. Still Life with Compotier * (Click on thumbnail painting for an exploded view.) 1879-1882 (180 Kb); 46.125 x 54.9275 cm (18 1/8 x 21 5/8 in) Collection Mr. and Mrs. Rene Lecomte, Paris

* Gauguin owned and greatly admired this Cezanne painting, and recreated it for the background of one of his own paintings, here: Portrait of a Woman with a Still-Life by Cézanne 1890; Oil on canvas, 65.3 x 54.9 cm (25 3/4 x 21 5/8 in) The Art Institute of Chicago

2. Mont Sainte-Victoire ** (Click on thumbnail image for an exploded view.) 1885-87; (130 Kb); Oil on canvas, 66 x 89 cm (26 x 35 3/8 in) [Given by the artist to Joachim Gasquet; bought by Samuel Courtauld in 1925] Courtauld Institute of Art, London

** Mont Sainte-Victoire is near Aix-en-Provence in France, where Cezanne lived. The mountain was a compelling subject for him, and he painted it more than sixty times from the early 1880's until his death in 1906. Following your picture study of this painting, you may be interested in viewing other paintings of the mountain, which provides a panoramic view of Cezanne's artistic diversity and development. A later painting that provides good contrast is here:

Le Mont Sainte-Victoire (Click on thumbnail image for an exploded view.) 1902-04; (170 Kb) Oil on canvas, 69.8 x 89.5 cm (27 1/2 x 35 1/4 in) Philadelphia Museum of Art; Venturi 798

Several other Mt. St-Victoire paintings: (Click on the thumbnail images for an exploded view.)

Alternate Painting (an example of Cezanne's portraiture):
Portrait of Gustave Geffroy *** (Click on thumbnail image for an exploded view.) 1895; (190 Kb); Oil on canvas, 115.8875 x 88.9 cm (45 5/8 x 35 in) Collection Mr. and Mrs.Rene Lecomte, Paris

***Parental preview suggested - small nude statue on desk in portrait.

Georges Seurat (France, 1859-1891)

1. Une Baignade, Asnieres (Bathers at Asnieres) 1883-84 (retouched 1887); 200.66 x 300.99 cm (79 x 118 1/2 in) National Gallery, London

Web Museum Copy (Click on the thumbnail to expand image)
Small copy of best image- Large size (1000x650) and Medium Size (750x488) available to members with a annual charitable contribution

Lesson Plan by Lee-Anne Penny

1. to stimulate an appreciation of art in the children
2. to introduce the art of Georges Seurat
3. to instill the habits of observation and attention through the careful study of 'Une Baignade, Asnieres' (translated as 'The Bathers, Asnieres')


Neo-Impressionism: artists working in this mode share the common trait of responding to Impressionism by wanting to make it more rigorous.

Pointillism: a manner of painting which utilises points or dabs rather than brush strokes

Lesson Plan:

1. Life of the Artist: Biography of the Artist George Seurat

2. Let the children look at the paintings to be studied by Seurat. Give the children a copy of 'Une Baignade, Asnieres' to look at carefully for 3-4 minutes.

3. Draw from the childrens' memory the details of the painting.

4. Point out any of the important details that have been overlooked. Notice how the clothing and gestures of the individuals expose their personalities. What is the setting for the painting? Who are the subjects? What colours do you see?

5. Formal elements: Examine pointillism. The composition of the figures is in tableau format. Draw attention to the horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines of the painting. The painting appears to be sun-drenched. The figures are given a roundness that is almost sculptural.

6. Mood: The mood of the painting is contemplative which is reflected in the method of production. Imagine how labourious a procedure this method of painting must have been for the artist. He/she must have been very patient to create such a work. There is no figure engaging the viewer so we are free to examine them at our leisure. The figures in the work are relaxed; they are enjoying the sunlight and water, perhaps taking a day off from working in the factories (note the smokestacks in the distance).

7. Have the children narrate the painting. Perhaps they can draw the chief outline of the painting in 5 minutes or attempt to recreate the tableau of the figures.

2. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte
1884-86; 205.7 x 305.8 cm ( 81 x 120 3/8 in)
Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Collection

CGFA Copy (Click on thumbnail painting for an exploded view.)
Small copy of best image- Large size (1000x668) and Medium Size (750x501) available to members with a annual charitable contribution

Lesson Plan by Lee-Anne Penny

1. to stimulate an appreciation of art in the children
2. to investigate the art of Georges Seurat
3. to instill the habits of observation and attention through the careful study of 'Un Dimanche a l'Ile de la Grande-Jatte' (translation: 'Sunday on the Island of Grand-Jatte')

Lesson Plan

1. Life of the Artist: Seurat painted 'Grande-Jatte' when he was 25 years old. He believed in scientific colour theory and tried to imbue his painting with scientific objectivity by transcending 'sensations' of nature by creating more abstract and impersonal styles in a radical new structural language of colour form. Seurat believed in the supremacy of colour theory which was part of the scientific awareness of this historical period which was sustained by the belief that everything could be formulated and explained in terms of natural law (even the life of the emotions).

2. Show the painting to the children and have them study the details for 3-4 minutes.

3. Draw the details from the children's memory.

4. Point out missed details. It is an upscale, middle-class promenade and picnic ground on the Seine (near Asnieres, the site of 'The Bathers'). Take a moment to map the painting's size out on the floor (it's huge) to give the children the sense of it's size. Seurat took two years to create this work, making 20 drawings and 200 oil sketches. Every step of this painting was carefully planned.

5. Formal Elements:

- This painting is a masterpiece of Pointillism. This method of painting was considered 'scientific' and less objective than traditional methods of applying paint because it eliminates the artist's personal mannerisms of handling. The artist is no longer present in the 'mechanical' production of the work. This is the democratization of art. It is a method of creating a successful art that, theoretically, could be available to everyone. The dot would wipe out the role of the genius in the making of art. It is also a deliberate rejection of spontaneity. The dot allegorizes the modern techniques of mass production (ever look closely at pre-digital newspaper photos, or the art of Roy Lichenstein?).

- The scientific colour theory is applied to this work. The grass is green but made up of tiny blue and yellow dots. The blue and yellow combine in the eye to form green. The shadowing of the grass is shown with dots of violet that is the complimentary colour to yellow. (Orange compliments blue; red compliments green; violet compliments yellow in this theory).

- This is a labour intensive method. Imagine how long it would take to combine the colours to produce the desired effect. We see this labour intensity as equated to the value of the work (why is this?).

6. Mood:

- These figures are de-humanized. There is no narrative or interaction. They are delightful statuettes. There is a rigidity of pose, reserve of gesture that reflects the dehumanizing rigidity of modern urban life. There is no personality expressed through the figures, and they are identified by their accoutrements and clothing only (the lounging sailor in the foreground, the seated wet nurse with the red hat seen from behind).

- Note the effects of the sunlight that gives the entire painting a glow.

- The figures in the painting are immobile, full of pomp and formality. The figures are geometric and placed on a static grid. Critics acknowledged that it was in some way poking fun at the inanity of the crowds that habitually gathered in this suburban spot on a weekend.

- There are only four points of action (can you find them?). The little girl in the red dress is fluid, as is the little dog in the foreground, the butterfly, and the sailboat (perhaps also the rowers?). All else is static and contributes to the monumental calm of the painting. Notice the directional movement of the action is on the diagonal rather than conforming to the grid. There is a contrast between the artificial and the natural through these points of action. Compare the little girls in red and white. The white girl is a tube of passivity and conformism, while the red girl is moving, and breaking out of the grid, breaking free of the social structures.

7. Listen to Steven Sondheim's 1984 Broadway Musical called 'Sunday Morning in the Park with Georges' (the main character is a model named Dot) which is based on this painting.

8. Have the children draw and tell about a part or the outline of the work. Or, have the children place the figures in the painting on a grid.

Question: What if I don't know enough about art to get the symbolism, etc?

I wouldn't worry too much about external critiques at this point. Start with the painting itself. What jumps out at you when you take a quick look at it? Start there, give some time to the work and really *look* (this is what Charlotte Mason encourages us to teach our children); the background information will bring layers of meaning to the work but it'll soon be forgotten if you don't form that relationship with the work first-hand.

Look at the colours the artist used. Why do you think s/he used them? How do the colours draw your eye to one part of the painting or other? Has the artist used a scientific method of perspective (do the figures look like they "belong" in their space, or do they look as if they are floating above the ground with the background some kind of screen behind them?) What is the subject of the painting? Is it telling a story or depicting a landscape or individual? What is the emotion expressed through the work? How does it make you feel to look at it? Are you tense? Is it relaxing? Could you stare at it for hours, or do you feel like a few minutes would be plenty to take it all in?

Use the clues in the information provided about the painting. Here is the info for the painting you mentionned:

Paul Gauguin Vision after the Sermon:Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1888 Oil on canvas 28 3/4 X 36 1/2 in (74.4 X 93.1 cm) Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland

Look up the passage in the Bible regarding Jacob and the angel... (somewhere around Gen. 32). Think about the title. What does it tell you about the figures? What is the artist expressing about these plain, simple Breton women by linking them to the Biblical passage? What do we know about the world in 1888? Don't look it up just yet... just think about it. How big *is* 74x93cm? Measure it out. Don't get stuck with researching the Japonese influences on Gauguin, or his views on religion, or how he treated the women in his life until you've really looked at the work and made a note of all the features. Move outward from the actual work!

What do you think that bold (brown) stroke is across the middle of the field of red? Why is it there? Gauguin could have just kept that area red, so why did he chose to place it where he did? Could it have a symbolic effect of dividing the women from their "vision," (the real from the imagined?) Does it jump out at you as a painting of a tree... could it be something else? A path? Why or why not?

What is with that cow?

What is the purpose of having it in the painting? Does it lend an air of the pastoral to the setting? Does it offer another means of showing perspective? Is the cow perhaps a symbol for something? Perhaps if you decide to do further research on this work you'll find theories by other viewers of the painting about these kinds of things, but don't let that get in the way of your own reactions and ponderings. This work reminds me of a stained glass with the bold black outlines and fields of colour. Gauguin had an interest in the "primitiveness" of the simple, pious people of Breton. He depicted them using this very child-like style with its bold colours, dramatic patterns and apparent disregard for proprotion and natural colouration. There is a deliberate awkwardness in this painting with the women crowded in together, leaving spacious zones of pure colour. He has rejected all illusionistic effects, even atmospheric ones; the figures in the distance are painted with the same palette as the figures in the foreground. He doesn't imitate nature but we still recognise the cow, the tree, the bonnets, the wings.

After you've had a good thorough look at the painting yourself, you might like to read something about the work or the artist from someone else's perspective. Placing the work in it's proper context sometimes makes the difference between being intrigued and feeling baffled. Charlotte Mason encourages us not to get too caught up with schools of art and styles of painting. Of course, the more you learn about the time and place in which the painting was produced the more you can appreciate it from an historical perspective. When presenting it to the children, I would let their reactions lead the discussion, rather than doing too much instructing until the time is right. Prompt them with "What do you think about... " and "Why do you think the artist did..." types of questions.

I hope that helps,

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