France 1859 – 1891
Model from the front
[Poseuse de face] 1887
oil on wood panel
panel 25.0 (h) x 16.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase, ex-collection Félix Fénéon 1947
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
These works are two of four studies for Seurat’s large canvas The models 1887–88.1 Two more studies can be seen here and here. The studies are painted on the familiar small panels the artist used to order his preliminary thoughts on elements of his large compositions.
In the two versions of a model seen from the front, the artist debates her very simple pose. In the looser, presumably earlier study, the woman’s knees and ankles are pressed together. The effect is a static, almost spinning figure, like a prehistoric figurine. In this version, she tilts her head slightly, and places her weight on the back leg, advancing the other into the viewer’s space. Immediately the pose is more dynamic.
The paint marks in the two studies could not differ more: the Model standing, facing the front is defined by broader, larger opposing dashes, outlined in pale orange lines, and given a conventional shadow. Model from the front is more refined and fully realised as a study for the final canvas; it was even signed. The model stands in a volumetric space, herself modelled by light and dark. Unusually, we can see the line drawing outlining her figure, particularly around the legs. She casts the suggestion of a shadow, which dematerialises against the wall. Seurat strongly marked the division between floor and wall, adding another angle to the composition. He also painted a stripe at the left and top borders, and then his characteristic painted internal frame which reprises his chromatic arguments in contrasting hues.
The final version of The models contains three nude figures, with the same female model portrayed at left from the back, standing centrally, and on the right in profile. Set in the artist’s studio, the three figures represent a modern-day Three Graces. They are re-embodied by a pale, slim Parisian girl, Madeleine Knoblock, who was Seurat’s lover and later the mother of his children. In the painting, dominating the left side wall of the studio, and taking up about a third of the canvas, is the right half of his gigantic masterpiece, A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte 18862.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania.
- The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.