Praise and Dispraise

THE theories which Seurat expressed in his works were not allowed to pass uncontested. Seurat's ideas were opposed even by artists and writers who could not be characterized as reactionary, some of whom did not hesitate to hail Seurat's talent. While they admitted being moved by his paintings, by his landscapes in particular, they continued to object to "the pernicious confusion of art and science," as Julien Leclerq, friend of Gauguin, put it. They were disturbed by the evidence in Seurat's compositions of a will to prove, which was less apparent in his landscapes. It was not so much the lack of imagination in his works that baffled them, as the presence of a cold will to exclude it. As early as 1886 Emile Hennequin, devoting a long article to Seurat in La Vie Moderne, had taken the following position:

His method is a device like other methods of painting, and on this score he should be judged solely for his capacity to represent nature more truly than others have. But, strangely enough, for anyone not convinced in advance, the pictures of Monsieur Seurat, like those of the artists who follow him, are completely lacking in luminosity. In total contrast to what his theories would lead one to expect, his seascapes excel precisely because they are grey; but one could hardly imagine anything dustier or more lustreless115 than his Grande Jatte, which presents promenaders glimpsed in the half- shadow cast by a full sun . . . Monsieur Seurat's failure at precisely the point where in his own terms it is his duty to go ahead of anyone else, shows clearly that aesthetics can expect little from preliminary theorizing, that it has its own laws, which it must derive from observation, and not predict on the basis of physical experiments.

The talent of Monsieur Seurat, and of the painters who follow his example, is something else again; but it cannot be said too often that one technique more or less contributes little to art, to the beauty of art works, that is, to their capacity to move.116

While Seurat could have answered this criticism by pointing out that the too small room in which La Grande Jatte was shown accounted for the seeming lack of luminosity of the canvas, which required being seen from a greater distance, an even more vehement attack of J. K. Huysmans, left no room for reply. At the start of 1887 this famous critic wrote of the third exhibition of the Indépendants, in which Seurat showed eight paintings and a dozen drawings:117

Last year, Monsieur Seurat exhibited, in addition to La Grande Jatte, a number of really beautiful seascapes, quiet seas under calm skies; these clear canvases, enveloped


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Georges Seurat


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