Tuesday 22 May 2007

In the footsteps of Georges Seurat

About a month ago I was able to visit two places which are associated with Seurat. The southern extremity of the Ile de la Grande Jatte is visible from the Pont de Neuilly and access to the island is via the footbridge from the Bd. Général Leclerc. Apart from some sport and leisure facilities the island is completely developed. There is nothing to be seen of the riverside scene which Seurat recorded in his masterpiece. The guide books had forewarned me but it still felt right to walk the island. Robert L Herbert’s great book on this painting reproduces a photograph from 1935 of Charles Laughton standing in front of it. I would love to make a link between it and the film which Laughton directed 20 years later (The Night of the Hunter) but apart from the slender coincidence that a river plays a major part in the movie, I’m afraid I can’t.

In Port-en-Bessin the local authority has had the bright idea of placing a weather proof image of Seurat’s painting on a metal easel bolted to the cliff path close to where the original was painted in the summer of 1888. Visitors can make a comparison between Seurat’s vision and today’s reality. If you have the good fortune to live near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts you can see this painting for free. Otherwise click here. The day was heavily overcast but the photograph gives some impression of how things look today in Port-en-Bessin.


Gloria said...

I'd love to see that photo of Laughton. He was a great lover of painting and had some impressionist authors in his art collection.

Incidentally, there is a picnic scene in "The Night of the Hunter" which had a picnic scene somewhat reminiscent of "La Grande Jatte"

Phil Beard said...

Many thanks for this. I must revisit the movie (one of my ten best) and watch the picnic scene more closely!

For the record, the Laughton photo is on page 243 of ‘Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte’ by Robert L Herbert, Art Institute of Chicago, 2004.

Phil Beard said...

Having now read the splendid account of "The Night of the Hunter" (Heaven & Hell to Play With by Preston Neal Jones) there is confirmation that Laughton was inspired by Seurat's painting when planning the picnic scene. On pages 168-169 the Art Director (Hilyard Brown) and the Cinematographer (Stanley Cortez) both refer to "La Grande Jatte" in connection with the picnic.