Skip to content →

Summer art 5

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th a global widely ranged artistic movement immerged. Modernism. Modernist artists experimented with form, technique and processes rather than focusing on subjects, believing they could find a way of purely reflecting the modern world. Modernism rejected tradition and advocated a return to the basic fundamentals of art. Artists embraced their new-found freedom of expression, experimentation, and radicalism, challenging the norm.

In the following paintings of the modernist era, we can see the different approach of modernist painters towards summer themes compared to the one of the Impressionists we have seen in the previous two articles.

Georges Seurat (1859 – 1891) was a French post-impressionist artist. He devised the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism and used conté crayon for drawings on paper with a rough surface. Seurat’s artistic personality combined qualities that are usually thought of as opposed and incompatible: on the one hand, his extreme and delicate sensibility, on the other, a passion for logical abstraction and an almost mathematical precision of mind.

Bathers at Asnières” (1884) is the first of Seurat’s two masterpieces on the monumental scale. Seurat was only 24 years old, when he painted it. The canvas is of a suburban, placid Parisian riverside scene. Isolated figures, with their clothes piled sculpturally on the riverbank, together with trees, austere boundary walls and buildings, and the River Seine are presented in a formal layout. A combination of complex brushstroke techniques and the application of contemporary color theory bring to the composition a sense of gentle vibrancy and timelessness.

Seurat used a variety of means to suggest the baking heat of a summer’s day at the riverside. A hot haze softens the edges of the trees in the middle-distance and washes out color from the bridges and factories in the background—the blue of the sky at the horizon is paled almost to whiteness. A shimmering appearance at the surface of Bathers at Asnières subtly reinforces this saturating heat and sunlight. The isolated figures are given statuesque but largely unmodeled treatment, and their skin and their clothes are clean, with a waxy finish. They appear unselfconscious, at ease in their environment, and—with the possible exception of the boy to the bottom right—are locked in a pensive and solitary reverie. Today the painting hangs in the London National Gallery, where it is considered a highlight of the gallery’s collection of paintings.[

The second masterpiece of Seurat, is his also large-scale work””A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (“Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte“, 1884–1886). The Island of la Grand Jatte is located at the very gates of Paris, lying in the Seine between Neuilly and Levallois-Perret, a short distance from La Défense business district currently stands. Although for many years it was an industrial site, it is today the site of a public garden and a housing development. When Seurat began the painting in 1884, the island was a bucolic retreat far from the urban center.

Seurat’s composition includes a number of Parisians at a park on the banks of the River Seine, promenading on a summer Sunday afternoon and it is considered to be a mirror impression of the Bathers at Asnières. While the bathers at Asnieres on the left bank are working-class people, the bourgeoisie are located on the right bank. Whereas the bathers in that earlier painting are doused in light, almost every figure on La Grande Jatte appears to be cast in shadow, either under trees or an umbrella, or from another person. For Parisians, Sunday was the day to escape the summer heat of the city and head for the shade of the trees and the cool breezes that came off the river. And at first glance, the viewer sees many different people relaxing in a park by the river. On the right, a fashionable couple, the woman with the sunshade and the man in his top hat, are on a stroll. On the left, another woman who is also well dressed extends her fishing pole over the water. There is a small man with the black hat and thin cane looking at the river, and a white dog with a brown head, a woman knitting, a man playing a trumpet, two soldiers standing at attention as the musician plays, and a woman hunched under an orange umbrella. Seurat also painted a man with a pipe, a woman under a parasol in a boat filled with rowers, and a couple admiring their infant child.

Some of the characters are doing curious things. The lady on the right side has a pet monkey on a leash. A lady on the left near the river bank is fishing. In the painting’s center stands a little girl dressed in white (who is not in a shadow), who stares directly at the viewer of the painting.  

Today, the painting it is found in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Paul Signac (1863 – 1935) was a French Neo-Impressionist painter who, working with Georges Seurat, helped develop the Pointillist style.

The Mediterranean coast is a major theme across Signac’s paintings. He left the capital each summer, to stay in the south of France in the village of Collioure or at St. Tropez, where he bought a house and invited his friends. He envisioned the south of France as the perfect location for a future anarchist utopia.

Signac loved sailing and began to travel in 1892, sailing a small boat to almost all the ports of France, to the Netherlands, and on the Mediterranean Sea as far as  Constantinople, basing his boat at St. Tropez, which he later would make popular to other artists. From his various ports of call, Signac brought back vibrant, colorful watercolors, sketched rapidly from nature. From these sketches, he painted large studio canvases that are carefully composed of small, mosaic-like squares of color quite different from the tiny, variegated dots introduced and used by Seurat.

On his vertical painting of 1895 “The red bouoy – Saint Tropez” (actually exhibited at Orsay Museum, Paris), the eye initially fixes on the vibrant red-orange buoy, which contrasts with the deep blue of the water. The reflections of the buildings then lean the viewer’s eye to the background with lighter tones. The divisionist technique and the combination of pure colors, allowed Signac to depict a glittering sea and the glimmering light of the Midi.

Capo di Noli” is another vertical painting of Signac, created on 1898. It depicts a cape on the Italian Riviera, close to Genoa. Signac hiked there from Saint ‘ Tropez two years before the painting was completed, and of his intentions he wrote he “wanted to take every corner of the canvas to the absolute extreme in terms of colour.

Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century.

Cézanne is said to have formed the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. Cézanne’s often repetitive, exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of color and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields. The paintings convey Cézanne’s intense study of his subjects. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all”.

The Bathers(French: Les Grandes Baigneuses) was first exhibited in 1906. The painting, which today is found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is the largest of a series of Bather paintings by Cézanne; the others are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, National Gallery, London, the Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Occasionally referred to as the Big Bathers or Large Bathers to distinguish it from the smaller works, the painting is considered one of the masterpieces of modern art and is often considered Cézanne’s finest work.

Cézanne worked on the painting for seven years, and it remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1906. With each version of the Bathers, Cézanne moved away from the traditional presentation of paintings, intentionally creating works that would not appeal to the novice viewer.

The abstract nude females present in Large Bathers give the painting tension and density. It is exceptional among his work in symmetrical dimensions, with the adaptation of the nude forms to the triangular pattern of the trees and river. Using the same technique as employed in painting landscapes and still lives, Large Bathers is reminiscent of the work of Titian and Peter Paul Rubens. Comparisons are also often made with the other famous group of nude women of the same period, Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon”.

While Cézanne’s drawing ability has always been criticized, a critic once said that he “made the ineptly drawn Bathers a warm evocation of leisurely summer bliss.” The painting was featured in the 1980 BBC Two series 100 Great Paintings.

Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) belonged to the post-impressionism movement and his works with experimentation and characteristic intense colors influenced the painters of the following years. Unappreciated until after his death, Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of color and Synthetist style that were distinct from Impressionism.

Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia. The paintings from this time depict people or landscapes from that region. Here we can see the “Tahitian Landscape“, painted by Gauguin in 1891. The vibrant colors he was using and the contrast of light blue sky and warm shades of orange and red on the landscape transmit vividly the tropical summer air of this exotic place.

The painting is actually found at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

The following painting of Gauguin, called “The bathers“, was painted a little later – in 1897 – after his return to Tahiti from Paris. Whereas the earlier works from Tahiti are vivid and direct, those painted during this second trip have a more dreamlike appearance and spiritual intensity. The figures are more monumental, with an aura of timelessness and dignity. And their color is more expressive.

This is not the only painting of Gaugin with the bathers’ theme, though. “Bathers at Tahiti“, created the same year (actually exhibited at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, England, is another remarkable painting. It is, actually, one of eight paintings which relate to the monumental canvas ‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?‘, a summation of Gauguin’s philosophy of life, civilization and sexuality. The paintings were described as ‘fragmentary replicas of and studies for’ the larger work when they were exhibited together in 1898.

Henri Émile Benoît Matisse (1869 – 1954) was a French visual artist commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso, as one of the artists who best helped to define the revolutionary developments in the visual arts throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century. The intense colourism of the works he painted between 1900 and 1905 brought him notoriety as one of the Fauves (wild beasts in French).

Both foundational in the oeuvre of Matisse and a pivotal work in the history of art, “Luxury, Calm and Pleasure” (“Luxe, Calme et Volupté”) is considered the starting point of Fauvism. This painting is a dynamic and vibrant work created early on in his career as a painter. It was painted by Matisse in 1904, after a summer spent working in St. Tropez on the French Riviera alongside the Neo-Impressionist painters Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross.

The painting’s title comes from the poem L’Invitation au voyage, from Charles Baudelaire’s volume Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) . It displays an evolution of the Neo-Impressionist style mixed with a new conceptual meaning based in fantasy and leisure that had not been seen in works before.

The painting is Matisse’s most important work in which he used the Divisionist technique advocated by Signac. Divisionism is created by individual dots of colors placed strategically on the canvas in order to appear blended from a distance; Matisse’s variant of this style is created by numerous short dashes of color to develop the forms that are seen in the image. The simplification of form and details is a trademark of Fauvist landscapes in which artists intentionally created artificial structures that distorted the reality of images. Many of these same qualities can be found in Matisse’s other works. The painting is currently found at the Orsay Museum in Paris.

The Open Window”, also known as Open Window, Collioure”, is one of my favorite paintings of Matisse. It was painted in 1905 and exhibited at the Salon d’ Automne in Paris the same year. It was bequeathed in 1998 by the estate of Mrs. John Hay Whitney Washington National Gallery of Arts. This painting is an icon of early modernism and another example of the Fauvist style of painting that Matisse became famous for.

The Open Window depicts the view out the window of his apartment in Collioure, a small town on the Mediterranean coast of France, to which Matisse traveled with Derain in the summer of 1905. We can see sailboats on the water, as viewed from Matisse’s hotel window overlooking the harbor.

During the time when this work was painted, Derain wrote that even the shadows in Collioure were a “whole world of clarity and luminosity.” Matisse courts the maximum intensity of color, when depicting the scene outside his window. The interior wall surrounding the window is divided into broad areas of blue-green and fuchsia, a contrast that is derived from the complementary opposition of green and red on the color wheel (this contrast recurs in the flowerpots at the bottom of the picture). Finally, the composition of the work is a series of frames within frames: the wall contains the window; the window frames the middle ground; and the balcony crops the landscape.

Matisse, returned frequently to the theme of the open window and especially during the years in Nice, and in his final years, particularly during the late 1940s. He loved painting open windows and painted them throughout his career.

The bathers (“Las bañistas” in Spanish) is my favorite of all paintings I presented you in these two articles about summer in painting.

Starting from 1918, Picasso spent all his summers at the beach, first at Biarritz, then on the Cote d’Azur or in Dinard. These journeys inspired him to create a series of works on the theme of bathers. This painting was created in 1918 at Biarritz and it is the first one of the series. It has been a long tradition in art history for artists to depict the female nudity with the sea scene. We have already seen two examples, the Large Bathers of Paul Cezanne, the bathers at Tahiti of Gauguin that we have already seen. This one, though, gives an idea of the healthy, active life of vacationers on sunny beaches, free of cumbersome clothing and cares.

This canvas, which Picasso kept for his own reference, possesses a unique place in his work: the detailed realism, the simple and direct handling, the sincere beauty of the lean and flexible bodies are uncommon attributes- Picasso generally depicts all the more liberally supplied female life structures.

The straightforwardness of the light in any case, these dull cutting edge Venuses in their sticking bathing suits, the biomorphic types of the rocks and stones, the stillness of the ocean, the solidified motions of the bathers, and the overjoyed disposition of the standing lady with her tentacular hair deliver a general impression of peculiarity and danger, a surrealistic air tantamount to specific seascapes by Tanguy.


Published in Music what we liked