La mer à Grandcamp
(The Sea at Grandcamp)
Signed “Seurat” (lower right)
Oil on panel
This tranquil seascape is the work of the great Georges Seurat, one of the most important and innovative artists of all time. Entitled La mer à Grandcamp, it is among the key works in the founding of the Neo-Impressionist movement, representing an important moment in Seurat’s career. It was among the very first in which he explored his revolutionary new technique, known as Pointillism, based on the theory of optical mixture by the division of tones. Colorful and avant-garde, it is a testament to the utter freedom of creativity the artist enjoyed at this important point in his career, the result of which would be his greatest masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte (Art Institute of Chicago).
Seurat began his work on A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte in Paris in 1884, beginning with a series of studies that revealed a gradual shift in style. He began to analyze and breakdown colors into individual components, a process known as Divisionism, and paint them side by side in small brushstrokes, a technique which evolved into Pointillism. But in the summer of 1885, Seurat halted work on A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte in order to spend the summer in Grandcamp, a small fishing village in Normandy.
There, he embarked on a series of marine paintings that fully expressed his new theories on light, color, perception and optics. These were inspired by Michel-Eugène Chevreul’s scientific theory on complementary colors. Seurat believed he could scientifically apply complementary colors to create harmony and emotion in art. Though the method was controversial at the time, today it is regarded as one of the most innovative movements in the history of art.
La mer à Grandcamp is an exceptional illustration of this burgeoning movement, depicting a sea of mosaic-like blue, green and yellow brushstrokes. The figures of boats are secondary to the overall painterly effect; those in the distance even appear to fade into the line of the horizon. Seurat often allowed the warm brown tone of his panels to show through as background color, and here the wood lends the work a deep compositional unity.
Undoubtedly, Seurat’s sojourn in Grandcamp was a turning point in his style. After returning to Paris, he once again turned to A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, only this time he applied the techniques he had learned in Grandcamp. The result was art history’s greatest Pointillist masterpiece.
Born in 1859 in Paris, Georges Seurat began studying drawing at an early age under the tutelage of the sculptor Justin Lequien. He entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1878, and it was there that he discovered a book that would change his entire life: Essai sur les Signes Inconditionnels de l’Art, or Essays on the Unmistakable Signs of Art (1827). The work dealt with aesthetics and the relationship between lines and images, spurring Seurat’s interest in the scientific basis of art.
Seurat exhibited at the Paris Salon for the first time in 1883; it was during this period that he also met the 100-year-old chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul, from whom he learned about complementary color theories. He also met Paul Signac, a young painter who would become his student throughout his pursuit of Pointillism. The technique, though initially met with mixed reviews, was later held up as a paradigm of avant-garde art, and he continued to show at the Salon des Indépendants until his untimely death in 1891 at the age of 31.
Because he died at such an early age, Seurat’s available works are exceedingly rare to find. On the chance occasion that his paintings arise at auction, they achieve significant prices. In May of 2018, a larger sailboat scene that Seurat also painted in Grandcamp in 1885 sold for $34 million – a testament to this important moment in his career.
Painted in 1885
Panel: 6 1/4″ high x 9 7/8″ wide
Frame: 11 1/4″ high x 14 3/4″ wide
Exposition Seurat, Paul Rosenberg, Paris, February 1936, no. 41
Seurat l’Oeuvre Peint Biographie et Catalogue Critique, Paris, 1959, by H. Dorra and J. Rewald, p. 175, no. 149 (illustrated)
Seuret et son Oeuvre, Paris, 1961, by C.M. de Hauke, p. 100, no. 152 (illustrated)
L’Opera Completa di Seurat, Milan, 1972, by A. Chastel, p. 103, no. 152 (illustrated)
Seurat: A Biography, London, 1990, by J. Rewald, p. 226 (illustrated)
Paul Alexis, Paris
Alfred Lombard, Paris
Colette Rangel, Paris
Santara collection, Geneva, by 1990
Galerie de la Béraudière, Brussels
Private collection, Connecticut
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans, 2018