France 1859 – 1891
Model from the back
[Poseuse de dos] 1887
oil on wood panel
panel 24.5 (h) x 15.5 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase, ex-collection Félix Fénéon 1947
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Seurat was a cultivated person, widely read and with an excellent knowledge of the art of the past. His studies in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, included examining the culture of ancient Egypt, and classical Greek and Roman sculpture. Model in profile, for example, reworks the well-known Greco-Roman bronze, The thorn-puller or Spinario. Seurat knew the sixteenth-century copy held in the Louvre. Here the model is preparing for work, or has finished posing, as she doffs or draws on her green stockings. The model seen from the back seems to be resting, while the standing model in Model standing, facing the front and Model from the front poses quietly, at work.
Model from the back is one of the most satisfying of Seurat’s realisations of his aesthetic theories. The woman’s pale skin is rendered in pink, and modelled with contrasting dots of blues and orange. She sits on a barely executed white sheet, while the darker background is reversed in blue, orange, red, yellow and white. Instead of a doctrinaire display of complementary colour theory, the artist observes in minute detail the slow fall of light on curved living flesh. Seurat acknowledges Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ painting of an odalisque in back view, Odalisque or Large odalisque 1814.1 Ingres’ nude turns towards us, as though inviting viewers into her secret world, while Seurat’s model sits closed and mute.
In Model in profile, the artist studies another problem, that of a light figure on a light ground. He intensifies light tones on the curves of back, arm, right thigh and left leg, while lightening the silhouette around the head and front of the body and left knee and shin. The brush marks differ in size and shape, and impart liveliness by their changes in direction.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- Musée du Louvre, Paris.