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Friday, May 30 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Paintings Session) Refining Style: Technical Investigation of an Early Work by Georges Pierre Seurat in the Maurice Wertheim Collection

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Throughout his career, Georges Seurat devoted himself to the current color and aesthetic theories of his time. Early on, he began applying these theories to canvas, fine-tuning both his technique and selection of materials, culminating in his mature style, pointillism, around 1886, exemplified by A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. This study investigates an early work by Seurat, Vase of Flowers, c. 1878 - c. 1879, in the Harvard Art Museum’s Wertheim Collection, painted around the time he quit the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1879. A number of recent studies (Kirby, Jo. et al. 2003; Herbert and Harris 2004) have characterized Seurat’s later style, technique, and material choices; there is, however, a dearth of material about his earliest works. The goal of this study is to gain a better understanding of Seurat’s early technique and style, especially when compared to his later works.

Overall, the painted structure of Vase of Flowers is complex and shows just how much forethought and planning Seurat invested in a painting. One facet of his layering system in Vase of Flowers is prominent brushwork throughout most of the composition that has no correlation to the painted objects within the composition. Cross-sections reveal that this texture is not in the ground, but rather in between paint layers: it is part of a layering system that involved abrading the top paint layers to reveal certain colors side by side. Cross-sections, SEM-EDS analysis and mock-ups helped to better understand this process. Furthermore, compositional changes and reworking of the composition visible in the X-ray may indicate Vase of Flowers was only a study, never considered a finished work.

Seurat was a meticulous artist, using materials and methods of paint application as a means of integrating theoretical concepts into his paintings. In Vase of Flowers, he was experimenting with a number of different techniques, though there is reason and theory behind every choice. Vase of Flowers can be viewed as a stepping-stone in Seurat’s career, as he works toward Pointillism.


Dina Anchin

Mellon Fellow in Painting Conservation, National Gallery of Art
Dina Anchin is the Mellon Fellow in Painting Conservation at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. She received her M.A. in Art Conservation, with a Certificate of Advanced Study in Paintings Conservation from Buffalo State College in 2012 and Post Baccalaureate Certificate... Read More →

Friday May 30, 2014 11:00am - 11:30am PDT
Grand Ballroom B