Seurat and the Avant-garde


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Paul Smith

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Georges Seurat, one of the most popular and admired of post-Impressionist painters, has been the focus of much attention in recent years. This book by Paul Smith views the artist in a new context and explodes some of the myths that have grown up about him. Challenging the assumption that Seurat’s work was scientific or that it expressed a serious commitment to anarchism, Smith instead traces the painters involvement with the various factions of the avant-garde and shows that he was perhaps the earliest exponent of Idealism in modern art.

Smith studies contemporary interpretations of Impressionism and analyzes how the groups surrounding Seurat constructed meaning from his art. From this investigation he creates a portrait of Seurat as one who was willing to accept, even encourage, interpretations of his art that he may not have intended. Smith shows, for example, that the "scientific" account of Seurat’s color first developed by Félix Fénéon actually represents the theory and practice of Pissaro. He examines Seurat’s involvement with anarchist critics and concludes that he merely posed as a painter with left-wing sympathies in order to benefit from the publicity these writers gave him. He explains that Seurat was sympathetic to Symbolism from its very inception and that he and his early Symbolist critics developed a theory of his art that was founded on Schopenhauer and Wagner’s ideas on art. And he explores the ways that Seurat focused on the musicality of art and on incorporating certain "musical" features in his work. Beautifully illustrated and engagingly written, this book presents a convincing new interpretation of the work of a major artist.

Paul Smith is a lecturer in the art history department at the University of Bristol.

"The book earns its touchstone status not only because of its thoroughness and the amount of new material Smith brings to bear on a range of problems, but also from his patient rethinking of everything that has been written on the artist until now."—Paul Tucker

"Seurat and the Avant-garde. . . moves beyond the pseudo-scientific explanations of the artist's aesthetic, likening it instead to a kind of painterly music that echoes the work of Whistler."—Anna Murphy, The Observer

"Challenging, scholarly and meticulously researched, this volume, which contains much new material, presents a new interpretation of a fine painter, whose work it illustrates beautifully."—Day by Day

"Paul Smith attempts to set [Seurat] among the aesthetics of Symbolism and of Wagnerian synaesthsia, sometimes perhaps overstating his case but surely on the right track."—The Irish Times

"A fresh and arresting characterization of [Seurat's] personality and artistic goals. . . . Those prepared to follow [Smith's] carefully delineated arguments will surely find the experience rewarding. . . . Recommended."—Choice

"Paul Smith's admirably presented and illustrated new study of Seurat's art presents a revaluation of the artist's intentions."—Geoffrey Newman, The Art Book

"Thoroughly reviews Seurat’s enterprise, drawing heavily on contemporary theory and criticism. He presents informed discussions on color theory, line, subject-matter, art movements, and politics. . . The book is well organized and the writing is clear. . . Very clearly written, with background on Seurat’s work leading up to his 1884 masterpiece, ‘Bather at Asniè res’; detailed exposition on the technical aspects of the painting; and an accessible discussion of the artistic context for the work."—Library Journal

r"Paul Smith questions more than a century of Seurat interpretation and reassembles incontrovertible data to form a different view of the painter. . . A book with implications for future research that probably will not be clear for a generation."—Alan G. Artner, Chicago Tribune

"One does not have to be an art historian to appreciate these elegant tomes whose rich, informed texts and radiant illustrations reveal Seurat's luminous complexity."—Adelia V. Williams, French Review

ISBN: 9780300070026
Publication Date: July 21, 1997
224 pages, 9 1/4 x 11
110 b/w + 75 color illus.
Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities

Painting, Poetry, Music

Cornelia Homburg; With contributions by Paul Smith and Laur

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