1979/5 Madeleine Knobloch at her Toilet (after Seurat)
Exhibited Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
1981 Catalogue No. 1139
Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-91), acknowledged leader of the post-impressionists and inventor of pointillism. He combined the ideals of academic French art with a curiously distant commentary on modern life - he said he wanted to paint people as if they were figures on the Parthenon frieze. Seurat made his name with his proletarian pastoral painting Bathers at Asnières (1884), which became an avant-garde icon after it was rejected by the Salon exhibition and shown at the alternative Société des Artistes Indépendants. He guaranteed his immortality with Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1886). He died of a heart infection at the age of 31.
Madeleine Knobloch, Seurat's lover, a working-class woman whom he kept a secret almost throughout their relationship, not just from his bourgeois family but also from his bohemian friends. They had a child who died at the age of one, not long after his father. Knobloch was given some of Seurat's paintings as an inheritance but she cut off all communication with his family after his death.
In this portrait, painted circa 1889 to 1890, Seurat both teases and adores his lover, depicting her against conventional traditions of portrait flattery as comically out of scale to her tiny rococo dressing table. This is a loving portrayal, almost out of control in its enthusiasm. When the painting was shown in 1890, Knobloch's identity was concealed. Yet this is a radical announcement of individuality: she may be acting according to fashion but there's nothing bland about her hair piled up like a brioche, her downcast eyes, her strong face. Her curvaceous presence is a source of visual ecstasy. Seurat delights in her toilette even as he registers the comically disjunctive shapes of real life. Roundness abounds in a rhythmic dance: hairdo, breasts, arms, the folds of her dress (Jonathon Jones, The Guardian).
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