France 1859 – 1891
Port-en-Bessin at high tide
[Port-en-Bessin, avant-port, marée haute] 1888
oil on canvas
canvas 67.0 (h) x 82.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase with funds from an anonymous Canadian gift 1952
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
A broad expanse of sky and sea creates a sense of openness in George Seurat’s painting Port- en- Bessin at high tide. This small fishing village on the Normandy coast nestles between steep cliffs with a covered fish market sitting at one end of the quay. An elevated viewpoint allows us to see the coastal landscape as it recedes into the distance.
Seurat’s sun-drenched painting has been constructed so that our eyes wander rhythmically from side to side as we view the scene. The curves of the grassy tussocks in the foreground are repeated in the sails of the boats, the plume of smoke from a chimney and a winding path leading to the top of the hill. The line of the horizon is echoed by the breakwater and quay jutting out into the sea.
There is a static quality to this landscape as though the village is frozen in time. Seurat achieves this atmosphere, which is bleached with light, by applying dots of contrasting colours side by side to create the effect of a third colour. The water’s colour is made by combining dots of yellow, blue and green on a white ground. Grassy cliffs are painted with dots of blue, orange and pink overlaid on larger strokes of yellow-green. This technique became known as Divisionism because of the way colour is placed onto the canvas and mixed in the eye of the viewer rather than on the artist’s palette.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay