Bathers at Asnières by Georges Seurat at the National Gallery, London

Welcome to “Art, Culture & Books” with me Anthony King. Today I’ll be taking you on a video and photographic tour of Bathers at Asnières by Georges Seurat painted in 1884 which is at the National Gallery in London, England.

Seurat’s initial major work, painted before he turned 25, was meant as a grand statement for the official Paris Salon in 1884 but it was unfortunately rejected. This large oil painting on canvas was one of his first monumental pieces of two.

The painting captures men and boys at leisure by the Seine in Asnières, an industrial suburb north-west of central Paris. They remain still, lost in their thoughts and unengaged with one another. The scene, bathed in bright yet hazy sunlight, creates an unusual quietness, almost like time has stopped and everything is temporarily frozen. In the distance, a railway bridge partially hides a parallel road bridge, and you can spot chimneys from the gas plant and factories at Clichy, where some of these men might work.

To convey the intense heat of a summer day, Seurat used different techniques. A hot haze softens the edges of trees in the middle-distance, draining colour from background bridges and factories, making the sky’s blue almost white at the horizon. The surface of Bathers at Asnières shimmers, subtly reinforcing the saturating heat and sunlight.

During the painting, Paris was rapidly growing, with the population doubling from one to two million between 1850 and 1877. Asnières also saw a nearly twofold increase in just ten years, reaching 14,778 in 1886. Seurat depicted the working class and bourgeoisie of Asnières in a scene of lazy leisure, almost dreamlike rather than realistic.

The painting continued to puzzle many of Seurat’s contemporaries, gaining widespread acclaim only years after the artist’s death at the young age of 31 on March 29, 1891.