The Human Eye: Monet and Seurat

Hey Guys!

Welcome back the The Art Corner! Today we are going to do a study between two famous artists from the 1800’s Claude Monet and Georges Seurat. Monet was an Impressionist artist, while Seurat was a Post-Impressionism artist. Today I want to look at two paintings by these artists that both encapsulate the same idea, yet are so vastly different in technique. During the 1800’s, also known in history as the time period called the Enlightenment, science and discovery were at a peak. People began to create theories, and study anatomy and the human. In this, they also started to think about the way human vision worked, and artists would try to use the way humans see in their paintings. Artists began to explore how the human eye catches light and color, and we can see this exemplified in the paintings of the time. Although artists had the same questions and explorations we can see from the outcomes of these two paintings that each artist captured human vision differently.

Let’s start with Monet. We will be looking at his work Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874 pictured below.Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 2.55.49 PM.pngMonet treated his canvas like it was actually the viewers eye. He wanted to pick up every color, shadow, and stroke of light that the human retina would capture when taking in the surroundings. His brush strokes are quick, unblended, and very fluid. The intent in that, is that Monet would have to work quickly, because he would replicate the colors and shapes his eyes were picking up as they filtered through, and he would quickly put those colors and shapes on the canvas. He could use an array of colors from blue and green, to pink and brown, depending on what color his eye captured in the moment. Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 2.56.11 PM.pngHere is a close up of the various brush strokes and colors he used. When examined up close, we see short brush strokes, that again are not blended, as they layer upon one another. The color varies greatly. But when we step back, Monet has captured a flowing river, with shadows cast by both the bridge and the boats, similar to how we would see water if we were there.

Now let’s move on to Seurat, whose approach is more rigid and organized. The work pictured below is titled A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884.Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 3.05.53 PM.pngSeurat’s intention was also to produce a work that displayed the way the human eye works. But in contrast to Monet, Seurat focused on the eye’s ability to process information, and fill in blanks or combine information to help create the image in our minds. With the discovery of color theory, specifically the idea that we can place two colors next to one another to create a third color in our mind, artists began to explore these findings. Seurat focused on using this theory, carefully placing colors together because he knew the human eye would create that third color which completes the image. His method for applying the paint was very exact as he would use dots of color, a technique called Pointillism.

This technique allowed Seurat to be exact in his placement of the various colors which then contributed to the overall image. For example in the right image above, I have captured just a portion of Seurat’s work. In it we can see the many dots placed, and the different blues and browns used. When we look at the larger image the water looks as if it is all almost one color, yet we can see the various dots of color Seurat used, knowing our vision would fill in the other colors to make the water look homogenous.

While both artists wanted to capture human vision, their ideal of this vary, and therefore the outcomes are very different. Monet’s painting is more relaxed and fluid because his approach was instantaneous, while Seurat’s is very ordered and feels more stagnant because of his preciseness.

Thank you guys for reading, more art coming soon!

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