The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe

Creation date
oil on canvas
Mark Descriptions
signed l.r.: Seurat, 1890
28-7/8 x 36-1/4 in. (canvas) 36-1/8 x 43-3/4 x 1-13/16 in. (framed)
Credit line
Gift of Mrs. James W. Fesler in memory of Daniel W. and Elizabeth C. Marmon
Accession number
Currently On View In
Robert H. and Ina M. Mohlman Gallery - H209

In this tranquil harbor scene Seurat, the pioneer of Neo-Impressionism, combines the talents of the theoretician and the poet. Methodically applying laws of color, he chose pigments that transcribe the purity of coastal air and light. Carefully orchestrating the vertical and horizontal elements, he constructed a deftly balanced composition that is remarkably faithful to the actual appearance of the port.

The frame is a reproduction of the one Seurat designed. Its ultramarine blue enhances the scene's luminosity, while the flecks of color repeat the hues of the canvas's dotted border.

(Reid and Lefevre, London) by 1926.{1} (Bignou Gallery, New York) by 1937.{2} (M. Knoedler & Co., New York) by 1945;{3} purchased by Caroline Marmon Fesler [1878-1960] in June 1945 for the John Herron Art Institute, now Indianapolis Museum of Art (45.195).{4}

{1} See Roger Fry, Transformations: Critical and Speculative Essays on Art, London 1926, p. 195 and plate XXX-A.
{2} See Bignou Gallery, New York, The Post-Impressionists, March-April 1927, no. 10 (ill.).
{3} Business ties were frequent between Bignou Gallery, Reid & Lefevre and M. Knoedler, sometimes involving joint accounts for particular works, as was the case with van Gogh's Postman Joseph Roulin at MFA Boston.
{4} IMA Temporary Receipt No. 4699.
Reproduction of these images, including downloading, is prohibited without written authorization from VAGA.

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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Georges Seurat, the reclusive young pioneer of Neo-Impressionism who shocked Paris with his controversial new style and his ironic views of urban life, spent his summers painting wistful images of the sea. In 1890, he traveled to Gravelines, a small French port near the Belgian border, and painted four views that became the last seascapes of his brief life. In the Gravelines pictures, Seurat relied upon many of the scientific principles of optics and color perception that guided his approach to painting. The resolutely methodical artist applied his pigments in the small dots that have become the most familiar aspect of Neo-Impressionism.

In this canvas, Seurat carefully recorded the harbor's architecture, much of which is still recognizable today. He manipulated the positions of the small boats, deploying their horizontal and vertical elements to create the stable structure he routinely sought for his compositions. This taut framework supports the lightest of chromatic burdens, as Seurat chose subtly nuanced colors to transcribe the coastal atmosphere. Enhancing the luminous effect is a narrow border, painted directly on the canvas in contrasting hues. When contemporary critics claimed to see poetry in Seurat's approach, the artist replied, "I just paint my method." Viewing the radiant world of the Gravelines pictures, one is tempted to disagree.

It is air and light, even and tranquil, fixed in frames.
-Poet and critic Emile Verhaeren, 1891, describing the Gravelines series