In the studio inventory made following Seurat’s death, this painting appears as "panel no. 1." One of the artist’s earliest works, it relates to pictures he made about 1880–81 that show single figures absorbed in thought or engaged in labor. The composition reveals his incipient talent for carefully calibrated light effects, bold silhouettes, and flat, geometric forms. Just visible through the leaves is the dome of the Institut de France, across the Seine from the Louvre in Paris.
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Title:A Man Leaning on a Parapet
Artist:Georges Seurat (French, Paris 1859–1891 Paris)
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:6 1/2 × 4 7/8 in. (16.5 × 12.4 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2019
At the time of Seurat’s death on March 29, 1891, this small painting was left in his studio at 39, passage de l’Élysée-des-Beaux-Arts, Paris. On May 3 of that year, Madeleine Knobloch (the artist’s mistress), Émile Seurat (the artist’s brother), the painters Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce, and the art critic Félix Fénéon gathered there to inventory the studio’s contents, and the works themselves were divided up among Seurat’s family and friends. This picture was listed in the inventory as "panneau no. 1," or "panel no. 1," an appellation that should be understood as much more than haphazard: the inventory was prepared very carefully, and its organization often encoded a hierarchy that probably reflected the relative importance that Seurat gave to his various works.
Although the artist made some one hundred sixty small paintings on wood (primarily cigar-box lids), referred to in the literature as croquetons, these are predominantly studies. The present picture projects an air of self-sufficiency uncharacteristic of the croquetons. Opinion is unanimous that this work is among the artist’s earliest, and it is usually dated to about 1881, although Robert Herbert has suggested that it may be as early as about 1878–79 (see Fahy 1973, pp. 210–11). However, this dating is contradicted by Herbert’s later contention that Seurat only used colored chalks between 1879 and 1881 (Herbert 1991, p. 27, under no. 14).
The motif of a man seen from behind leaning against a low wall or parapet is found in three small early sketches seemingly drawn from life, in graphite, which have been dated to about 1880–81 (H400, H407, H416; for all related works, see Notes). Numerous studies from this period focus on single figures absorbed in thought or in their work (an example in oil is The Mower in the Robert Lehman Collection of The Metropolitan Museum, 1975.1.206).
The present painting was developed through two studies, one in conté crayon (H460), the other in pastel (H459), both of which are squared. In these latter two works all the elements of the painting’s composition are present, although both are actually larger than the oil. Two other drawings that most likely predate the small panel are worthy of consideration in terms of its development. One is a view past some shade trees, over a parapet, toward a dome that is certainly the same dome as the one that appears in the painting, but lacking a figure (H461). The second is a conté crayon drawing of a woman leaning against a parapet, although seen more from the side than from behind (H462).
Two later drawings reflect the composition of the present picture. The first, depicting a house seen past a tree, has been identified as a related work given the compositional function of the tree (H546); although dated by de Hauke to about 1883, Robert Herbert dated it 1879–81. Another pertinent work is the study of about 1884 for Sunday on La Grande Jatte known as Man and Tree (H616), for which this painting and its studies might be considered precursors.
This picture has traditionally been called A Man Leaning on a Parapet (The Invalid). "The Invalid" has been understood as a reference to the dome of Les Invalides, and the man was first called an invalid when the panel was exhibited in 1908. As many writers have remarked, however, the dome is more likely that of the Institut de France, across the Seine from the Louvre.
[2014; adapted from Tinterow and Miller 2005]
For more information about the technical examination and conservation of this work, see Charlotte Hale's episode of Curator's Cut on YouTube.
the artist, Paris (until d. 1891; his estate, from 1891; posthumous inventory of his studio, panneau no. 1); the artist’s brother-in-law, Léon Appert, presumably a gift from the artist’s mother, Mme Ernestine Seurat (by 1898–about 1908; to Natanson); Alexandre Natanson (by 1908–14; sold on January 13 to Bernheim-Jeune); [Bernheim Jeune & Cie., Paris, 1914 (stock no. 20.162); sold on January 24 to Kann]; Alphonse Kann, Paris (from 1914; sold to Rodrigues-Henriqués); Jacques Rodrigues-Henriqués; Albert Rothbart, later Roothbert, New York (by 1924); his widow, Toni A. Roothbert, Topstone Farm, Ridgefield, Conn. (until d. 1970; bequeathed to the Topstone Fund); Topstone Fund (1970–71; sold to Wrightsman); Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1971–his d. 1986; cat., 1973, no. 22); Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1986–d. 2019; cat., 2005, no. 122)
Paris. Revue Blanche. "Georges Seurat (1860 [sic]–1891): Œuvres peintes et dessinées," March 19–April 5, 1900, no. 2 (as "Petit Homme au parapet," 1881) [see Hauke 1961, p. 231].
Paris. Bernheim-Jeune. "Georges Seurat (1859–1891)," December 14, 1908–January 9, 1909, no. 3 (as "L'invalide," lent by M. A[lexandre]. N[atanson].) [see Hauke 1961, p. 236].
New York. Joseph Brummer. "Georges Seurat," December 4–27, 1924, no. 20 (as "L'homme sur le Pont," lent by Albert Rothbart).
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Modern Works of Art," November 20, 1934–January 20, 1935, no. 25 (as "The Quai," lent by Albert Rothbart).
Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago. "24 Paintings and Drawings by Georges-Pierre Seurat," February 5–25, 1935, no. 19 (as "Man on the Quay—Study—1881," lent by Albert Rothbart, New York).
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Cubism and Abstract Art," March 2–April 19, 1936, no. 258 (as "The quay," 1883 [?], lent by Albert Rothbart, New York).
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
Lucie Cousturier. "Georges Seurat (1859–1891)." L'art décoratif 27 (June 1912), ill p. 364, as “L’invalide;' erroneously identified as a drawing.
André Fontainas and Louis Vauxcelles. Histoire générale de l'art français de la Révolution à nos jours. Vol. 1, Paris, 1922, ill. p. 240, erroneously identified as a drawing.
Gustave Coquiot. Seurat. Paris, 1924, p. 245, under “Peinture, 1881,” as “Petit homme au parapet”.
Élie Faure. History of Art. Vol. 4, Modern Art. New York, 1924, ill p. 460, as "The Quay," private collection.
Alfred H. Barr Jr., ed. Modern Works of Art. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1934, pp. 12, 24, no. 25, ill.
Alfred H. Barr Jr. inCubism and Abstract Art. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1936, pp. 22, 223, no. 258, fig. 5, calls it "The Quai" and "The Quay," dates it to possibly 1883.
Jacques de Laprade. Georges Seurat. Monaco, 1945, p. 95, fig. 1, calls it "L'invalide," about 1881; erroneously describes it as oil on canvas.
Germain Seligman. The Drawings of Georges Seurat. New York, 1947, p. 38, transcribes the catalogue for Paris 1900, in which this work was included [see Exhibition History].
Henri Dorra and John Rewald. Seurat: L'œuvre peint, biographie et catalogue critique. Paris, 1959, p. 9 no. 9, ill., as "Petit Homme au Parapet ou L'Invalide," about 1881, current whereabouts unknown.
C. M. de Hauke. Seurat et son œuvre. Paris, 1961, vol. 1, pp. 8–9, 231, 236, no. 12, ill., calls it "L'invalide (Petit homme au parapet)" and dates it about 1881; notes the dimensions incorrectly.
Anthony Blunt in Roger Fry. Seurat. London, 1965, p. 77, no. 1, colorpl. 1, as "Man Leaning on a Parapet," about 1881–83, collection of Albert Roothbert, Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Pierre Courthion. Georges Seurat. 1st ed. New York, , p. 44, ill., as "Man at a Parapet (The Invalid)," about 1881; locates it in a private collection, New York.
Fiorella Minervino inL'opera completa di Seurat. [1st, French ed., 1973]. Milan, 1972, p. 91, no. 8, ill.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 206–12, no. 22, ill. p. 207 (color), figs. 1 (reverse), 3, calls it "A Man Leaning on a Parapet;" discusses preliminary studies in graphite, pastel, and conté crayon, noting that in the drawings, the building in the background is fairly recognizable as Les Invalides; suggests dating the work to before November 1879, when Seurat left Paris to serve in the army; compares it to the work of Daumier.
R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.
Richard Thomson. Seurat. Oxford, 1985, pp. 39, 228 nn. 43–44, fig. 29 (color), calls it one of Seurat's earliest paintings of the isolated urban figure, which became a key motif in his work; suggests that although it may have been begun in 1879 it was probably taken up again after Seurat's demobilization from the army; calls the title of "L'Invalide" misleading, as the building in the background is not Les Invalides and the artist was not given to such anecdotal or sentimental titles.
Herbert Wotte. Georges Seurat: Wesen, Werk, Wirkung. Dresden, 1988, p. 214, pl. 8, erroneously locates it in the Rothbart collection.
Catherine Grenier. Seurat: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1990, p. 21, no. 8, ill., erroneously locates in the Rothbert [sic] collection.
Michael F. Zimmermann. Seurat and the Art Theory of His Time. Antwerp, 1991, pp. 68, 453 n. 24, fig. 100 (color).
Robert L. Herbert et al. Georges Seurat, 1859–1891. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1991, pp. 27–28, under no. 14 [French ed., "Seurat", Paris, pp. 68–69, under no. 13].
Richard Tilston. Seurat. London, 1991, pp. 34–35, ill. (color), notes the possibility that the setting is one of the embankments of the Seine, and the dome is that of the Institut de France, but states that no evidence indicates that Seurat painted subjects in the center of Paris; discerns reworking around the outline of the figure and suggests that the artist may have struggled with this part of the composition.
Gary Tinterow and Asher Ethan Miller inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 422–25, no. 122, ill. (color), recognize it as among Seurat's earliest works; connect it to early graphite sketches of a man seen from behind, leaning against a low wall or parapet (H400, H407, H416); dicuss the related preparatory studies; note that the title "The Invalid" has been understood as a reference to the dome of Les Invalides, but remark that the dome in the picture is more likely that of the Institut de France.
Bruce Altshuler, ed. Salon to Biennial—Exhibitions That Made Art History, 1863–1959. Vol. 1, London, 2008, ill. p. 241 (installation photo of New York 1936), as "The Quay".
Paul Hayes Tucker inThe Robert Lehman Collection. Vol. 3, Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Paintings. New York, 2009, p. 133, fig. 6.
Michelle Foa. Georges Seurat: The Art of Vision. New Haven, 2015, p. 105, fig. 75 (color).
Hakim Bishara. "A Glorious Gift of European Artworks Is on Display at the Metropolitan Museum." Hyperallergic. November 19, 2019, ill. (color, installation view) [https://hyperallergic.com/528444/a-glorious-gift-of-european-artworks-is-on-display-at-the-metropolitan-museum/].
Didier Rykner. "Le legs Wrightsman au Metropolitan (3): peintures et pastel français du XIXe." Tribune de l'art (August 26, 2019), fig. 5 (color) [https://www.latribunedelart.com/le-legs-wrightsman-au-metropolitan-3-peintures-et-pastel-francais-du-xixe].
The following studies and related drawings are identified by the catalogue number assigned to them in Hauke 1961 (abbreviated as H followed by the related catalogue number).
Studies: Man Leaning on a Parapet, Seen from Behind, ca. 1881. Pastel, squared, 9 1⁄2 × 6 1⁄8 in. (24 × 15.5 cm). H459. Man Leaning on a Parapet, Seen from Behind, ca. 1881. Conté crayon, squared, 9 1⁄4 × 5 7⁄8 in. (23.5 × 15 cm). H460.
Related Drawings: Man Leaning on a Parapet, Seen from Behind, ca. 1880–81. Graphite, 6 1⁄2 × 3 5⁄8 in. (16.5 × 9.2 cm). H400. Butcher Leaning on a Parapet, Seen from Behind, ca. 1880–81. Graphite, 6 1⁄2 × 3 7⁄8 in. (16.5 × 10 cm). H407. Man Leaning on Parapet, Left Hind View, ca. 1881. Graphite and chalk on gray paper, 3 3⁄4 × 2 3⁄4 in. (9.5 × 6 cm). H416. The Hotel des Invalides, Seen over a Parapet by the Seine, ca. 1881. Conté crayon, 12 1⁄4 × 9 1⁄4 in. (31.2 × 23.3 cm). H461. Woman Leaning on a Parapet, Right Hind View, ca. 1881. Conté crayon, 9 3⁄8 × 6 1⁄4 in. (23.7 × 15.7 cm). H462. The Tree Trunk, 1879 or ca. 1883. Conté crayon, 12 3/8 x 9 1/2 in. (31.5 x 24 cm). H546. Man and Tree, ca. 1884. Conté crayon, 24 x 18 1/8 in. (61 x 46 cm). H616.
A sticker on the back of the painting from its appearance in Paris 1908–9 identifies it as "No. 3 L'Invalide" with the date "(1879–1887)."
This work may not be lent, by terms of its acquisition by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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