Georges Seurat ( French, 1859 - 1891 )
In 1881 and 1882, Georges Seurat spent hours along the shores of the River Seine, northwest of Paris. He painted at many points along the river, making dozens of plein-air (outdoor) sketches for compositions executed later in his studio. These studies, which he called croquetons (little sketches), were generally made on portable six-by-nine-inch wood boards. Grassy Riverbank is a rare example of a croqueton painted on canvas. It depicts a quiet twilight scene. The dark blue vertical line rising from the unseen shoreline is likely a fishing pole or the mast of a small boat—a subtle reminder of human activity. Grassy Riverbank may be the first of many preparatory oil sketches for Seurat’s famous Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886), the monumental painting that unveiled his revolutionary pointillist technique (fig. 1). Yet, because this small landscape is undated and does not contain identifiable landmarks, it may have contributed to another river scene, Bathers at Asnières (fig. 2), which the artist began the same year. Regardless of Seurat’s intended use for Grassy Riverbank, it is an accomplished work in its own right. The artist employed three distinctive types of brushwork to bring the composition to life. He used broad strokes of earth-toned pigments to render the tree trunks, and made thin parallel strokes of pastel colors to capture the water’s shimmering surface. For the dense growth in the foreground and the trees’ thick foliage, he applied paint in the balayé manner, a technique he developed using a flat, wide brush to create interwoven layers of short brushstrokes (fig. 3). The colorful cross-hatching creates a sense of movement in the water, leaves, and grass.