Georges SEURAT | Study for 'Bathers at Asnières' [Etude pour 'Une baignade à Asnières']

Georges SEURAT
France 1859 – 1891

Study for 'Bathers at Asnières'
[Etude pour 'Une baignade à Asnières']
oil on wood panel
panel 15.5 (h) x 25.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Gift of Baroness Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud 1965
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Bathers at Asnières 18841 was Seurat’s first large canvas.This panel is one of fourteen painted studies and ten drawings which definitely relate to the final canvas; there are several others that have figurative or landscape connections as well.

This study presents a scene of the banks of the Seine at Asnières, a suburb on the edge of Paris, with the factories of Clichy in the background. It is a cropped version of the final composition, with several of the main figures not yet rendered—here the russet-coloured spaniel is reduced to just a head poking in at one corner.

The final version of Bathers has five figures sitting on the bank, two in the water and two piles of clothes. Here Seurat has included a simplified version of one of these piles, the seated man in white, and a crouching figure in the water (although his hair becomes an orange hat in the final version). The second naked boy in the water stands in the pictorial space eventually occupied by the final work’s largest sitting figure. The general outline of the bridge, buildings and factories appear in the background, similar to the final version, although here they are simply blocked in with broad brushstrokes.

Seurat spent much of his early years painting workers. Initially he planned to do the same in Bathers, depicting horses being bathed in the river by stable boys. The landscape was actually a designated ‘bathing area’ for animals as well as humans—as indicated by the French title, ‘Une baignade’. The large section of yellow clay in the centre of denotes where the horses would have been led to the water.

In this study, the suggestion of labour was replaced by a scene of pure leisure, featuring just human figures. The working- or lower-middle class shown relaxing on the bank have no direct reference to the industry behind them. However, their leisure is not as indulgent as the pastimes presented by the Impressionists.

Completed before Seurat’s discovery of Divisionism, here there are three distinct types of brushstrokes.2 The foreground uses a criss-cross technique to build up the illusion of texture on the grass and bank. For the water, Seurat uses broad horizontal brushstrokes. Irregular daubs of paint make up the sky, characteristic of softer Impressionist textures, with the colours blending into one another. The techniques used in this study mirror those used in the final work; but in the latter they are much tighter and more precisely applied.

Simeran Maxwell

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

  1. National Gallery, London.
  2. Seurat retouched the final canvas of Bathers in 1887 and added areas of dots, especially the orange hat of one of the bathers in the water.