"AN unbiased mind perceives with stupefaction that even in his first productions, even in his youth, he was great. At times he may have been more delicate, at times more singular, at times he may have been more of a painter, but he was always great." These words, written by Baudelaire about Eugène Delacroix, are surely relevant to Georges Seurat, who was at once the disciple of the painter of the Massacres of Scio and of Delacroix's rival, Ingres. Surely Georges Seurat was great, for he was able to realize unhesitatingly whatever his eye and his intelligence dictated to his brush; the very least of his sketches bears the stamp of an incomparable artistic personality; the unsuspected aspect of beings and of things which he perceived and projected on his canvases is today part of our aesthetic patrimony.
It was the personal element in Seurat's conception rather than his purely technical discoveries which enabled him to make a decisive contribution to the renewal of the impressionist movement. But Seurat was not the only painter who wanted to give a new impetus to the movement initiated by Manet and his friends, Seurat's elders by a generation. Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were then also seeking new paths. Van Gogh, with his explosive color and violent expressiveness, Lautrec with his keenly observant wit and nervous draughtsmanship, and Seurat with his consummate art of precise harmonies, went beyond impressionism. Contemporary art begins with these men, with Cézanne who savagely cooped himself up at Aix, and with Gauguin, dreaming in the distant tropics.
Seurat, van Gogh, Lautrec: three glorious names in the art of the dying nineteenth century, three industrious lives broken at the height of their élan. When van Gogh committed suicide in 1890 he was thirty-seven years old. When in 1891 Seurat suddenly died he was only thirty-one. Lautrec burnt himself out in 1901 at the age of thirty-seven. Despite their youth all three achieved what Cézanne called realization, giving their full measure at an age when others are still seeking. As if recognizing that they had only a few years in which to ex