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Seurat's Models

natschall's picture

To me, one of the most intriguing paintings in the Barnes Foundation was Seurat’s Models. I was told, in AP Euro, to always first look for geometric patterns within the artwork when examining art. So, I did that, and came away with: the three models in the painting form a triangle. But that’s all. The rest of what I took away was much more conceptual and based mostly on ideas rather than strict form.

The pose of the middle model, legs spread wide, feet planted firmly on the floor, and hands clasped in front, suggests, to me, self confidence. She looks very openly at the viewer- “Yes, I’m here, what of it?” With her head tilted a little to the side and steadfast gaze, it’s almost like she’s daring you to ask her what she’s doing there. The other two models are turned away. Their body language does not suggest shyness, but they’re not as open as the middle model is. Also, we can’t see their eyes, whereas the eyes of the middle model seem to follow you no matter where you stand in front of the painting.

To me, the interpretation of this painting could be either that the three are about to pose for the artist, or they’ve just finished posing. Either way, it’s an insight into the process of making a painting. My preference for looking at it is that the models are getting ready to pose, because of the middle model’s stance. It’s like she finished getting ready first and is waiting for the others.

The room this is painted in looks like either a personal room or an artist’s studio, filled with props and clothing. It’s possible that it’s a personal room filled with things. The artist’s own painting is redone on the side wall and there are other (unclear) paintings on the back wall, which suggests it is not an official studio, at least the part we can see. I like to think that at least some of the clothing scattered about is what the models have discarded. It feels a lot like we’re seeing a corner of the room that we’re not supposed to be seeing. With the decorations, paintings, and all the things on the floor and tables, it’s like we’re actually looking behind where the artist usually stands, and he’s facing the opposite direction than for most paintings done in that room.

The shading used in the paint dotting helps to make the painting very three dimensional. You can see the middle model’s stomach sticking out, definitely not flat, and the model on the left’s spine poking sharply out of the otherwise smooth line of her back. But these defined features do not hold for the whole painting. It doesn’t exactly get out of focus or blurry in the background, but things do not have quite as much detail as they do in the foreground. The models also seem much more lifelike than they do in the painting behind them, although they’re both by the same artist. It’s almost like he’s contrasting the different styles he can do, even though the audio said the inclusion of the other painting was a snub at the critics who didn’t like it. Although, of course, the paintings aren’t exactly in a different style (besides the obvious dotting versus not dotting), they really just have different expressions of people.