Rowing on Point – The Art of Georges Seurat

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86) by Georges Seurat.

6 August 2022

By Scott Patterson

A few years ago, whilst researching my book The Oarsmen, I had discovered that the famous post-Impressionist artist and avant-garde creator of the pointillism, Georges Seurat had, in his masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86) included a coxswainless four rowing through the trees in the background of his superb iconic work (see on top).

This year, after COVID travel restrictions were lifted, I was in the UK and made my usual pilgrimage to one of my favourite places in London, the National Gallery to immerse myself in its spectacular collection of artwork. Amongst the National’s collection is Georges Seurat’s other major work, Bathers at Asnières (1884).

In the background of Bathers, are the distinctive towering chimneys of Parisian riverside industry.

Bathers at Asnières

Also, during my book research, I had discovered some photographs of the New Zealand and American military rowing crews training on the Seine at Asnières in April 1919 (see below). These photos also featured the belching chimneys of the industrialised Seine riverfront that figured in Seurat’s Bathers.

Soldiers from New Zealand training on the Seine at Asnières in 1919.
American soldiers on the Seine at Asnières in 1919.

Amongst the summer tourist crowds at the National Gallery, I squeezed my way forward for a closer inspection of Seurat’s impressive Bathers at Asnières. There, to my pleasant surprise, halfway up the right-hand edge of frame, my eye was drawn the very subtle stern section of yet another rowing boat furiously paddling its way out of the bathing scene.

In Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, a crew is rowing their way out of the bathing scene.

Seurat had yet again included rowing in another impressive masterpiece. Perhaps Georges was himself an occasional oarsman before he tragically died at only 31 years of age? At least, it seems rowing was very much a part of the leisurely ‘Parisian’ milieu in the late nineteenth century.

2 comments

  1. I guess the boat in “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is coxed! And may be it´s sculled?
    There are at least three blades on the portside. But I never noticed the stern at the “Bathers” Nice post!

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