The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society

By Linda Nochlin | Go to book overview

lowers. The anti-Utopian impulse lies at tne heart of Seurat's achievement--in, as Bloch saw it, the "single mosaic of boredom," the "emptyfaced dolls," the "expressionless water of the Sunday Seine"--in short, the "landscape of painted suicide which does not come off only because it lacks resolve." And it is this legacy that Seurat left to his contemporaries and to those who followed after him.


Notes
1.
This essay was originally presented in October 1988 as a talk initiating the Norma U. Lifton Memorial Lecture Series at the Art Institute of Chicago.
2.
Seurat himself did not specify the time of day in the painting when he first exhibited it, at the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886.
3.
Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight ( Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press, 1986), II, p. 814. This passage has also been cited, in a different context, in the recent catalogue edited by Erich Franz and Bernd Growe , Georges Seurat: Zeichnungen, Kunsthalle Bielefeld and Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 1983-84, pp. 82-83. The translation has been altered to render it more readable.
4.
Bloch, The Principle of Hope, II, pp. 813-14. The emphasis is Bloch's. The translation has been somewhat altered.
5.
The satiric exaggeration of structure itself constitutes an anti-Utopian strategy, allegorizing the failure of formal harmony in more traditional paintings of the time and calling into question, like the so-called social harmony it refers to, the whole idea of a "paradise on earth."
6.
Seurat did not simply remove the process of pictorial construction from the painting, neutralizing his handiwork into nonexistent smoothness and "universality," as did a Neoclassical artist such as Ingres. The facture is, unremittingly, present. It has simply been mechanized, positively depersonalized, and made anti-expressive.
7.
Meyer Schapiro, "Seurat and 'La Grande Jatte,'" Columbia Review XVII ( 1935): 14-15.
8.
On Papety see Nancy Finlay, "Fourierist Art Criticism and the Rêve de bonheur of Dominique Papety", Art History 2, no. 3 ( September 1979): 327-38. Finlay refers (p. 330) to the Rêve de bonheur as having "its message of Fourierist utopia conveyed by standard classical formulas in a classicizing style. . . ."
9.
See Finlay, "Fourierist Art Criticism," p. 328.
11.
Love between the sexes, if not totally omitted, is certainly muted: The only two figures who might be read as lovers are relegated to the background of the composition. Papety's painting also included other embodiments of virtuous satisfaction, such as the "laborieux penseurs" (working thinkers) engaged in studies, a beautiful woman asleep in the bosom of her husband, and a noble old man stretching his hand out in blessing over the head of his daughter and her fiancé.

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