Summer 2020 has been an unusual time for us all – faced by a global pandemic, the world was in lockdown. Festivals, galleries, and beach holidays were cancelled and replaced with Zoom chats, masks and curfews. We’re coming to the end of September and the end of summer is approaching thick and fast. So, as we say goodbye to the warm weather and prepare for the winter months that lie ahead, we take a look at some of the most iconic artwork inspired by the summer months.

CAPTURING SUMMER LIGHT WITH POINTILLISM

The French post-impressionist artist, Georges-Pierre Seurat, took a lot of inspiration from the summer season. Seurat’s preferred technique was pointillism. This particular and detailed technique would allow Seurat to play with light and really capture and portray the summer feel and project it onto canvas.

Seurat began working on his first major piece in 1883 titled, ‘Bathers at Asnières’. The painting depicts a group of young men relaxing on a summer afternoon on the banks of the river Seine in Paris. The painting was rejected by the Paris Salon in 1884, which resulted in his participation in the foundation of the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants.

Bathers in Asnières‘ (1883) by Georges-Pierre Seurat

In the summer of 1884, Seurat began working on arguably his most recognised masterpiece, ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’. Again, Seurat took inspiration from the summer light, the people enjoying the warm days and the atmosphere of Paris in the summertime.

Painted on a large canvas (70.5 x 104.1 cm), the painting is a leading example of pointillism. Seurat focused particularly on issues of colour, light and form. In ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’, the painting is split into two parts – the colourful landscape that bathes in sunlight and the heavily shadowed half, where the Parisians enjoy their leisurely afternoon in the cool shade. 

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte‘ (1884) by Georges-Pierre Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat went on to create a spectacular collection of artwork, depicting people enjoying their surrounding landscape and capturing the natural light of landscape through pointillism. His later work included, ‘The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe’, which he painted in 1890, where Seurat spent the summer on the coast of Gravelines.

SUMMER AFTERNOON AT THE MAISON FOURNAISE

French Impressionist artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir immortalized the Parisian summer days in his paintings of the Maison Fournaise – particularly in ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ (1880-1881). One of his more celebrated works, the painting depicts a sunlit balcony at the Maison Fournaise, a restaurant, hotel and rowboat rental place, located on the Îsle de Chatou just outside Paris. Parisians would escape the hustle and bustle of the hot city in the summer to enjoy a leisurely lunch on the banks of the River Seine. 

The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ (1880-1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The painter captures the lively atmosphere, portraying a group of friends passing the summer afternoon together. The subjects in the painting were Renoir’s own friends and acquaintances, including French actress, Ellen Andrée (who would sometimes sit for Renoir), artists Paul Lhote and Gustave Caillebotte.

Renoir once wrote: “You could find me any time at Fournaise’s,” he continued, “There, I was fortunate enough to find as many splendid creatures as I could possibly desire to paint.”

He found much of his inspiration from his time spent on the river Seine and painted some of his most recognised pieces, including: ‘Portrait of Alphonsine Fournaise (1879) and Boating on the Seine (c. 1879).

SUMMER BOATING ACTIVITIES

Featured in Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is Gustave Caillebotte, a friend and contemporary artist of Renoir who also took inspiration from the summer months. Caillebotte was a boating enthusiast and was a member of the Sailing Club of Paris, so it comes as no surprise that his work featured many boating scenes. This was particularly prominent in his work between 1877 and 1878. One of his works, titled ‘Canoe on the Yerres River’(1878), depicts a lone rower meandering along the river in his canoe. 

‘Canoe on the Yerres River’ (1878) by Gustave Caillebotte
Image source: https://www.nortonsimon.org/art/detail/M.2010.1.238.P

American artist, Mary Cassatt, took to painting people enjoying the leisurely water activity. Cassatt spent many summers at Antibes, where she would experiment with colours. In ‘The boating party’ (1893-1894), Cassatt depicts a mother and child enjoying a boat ride while a male figure rows. The National Gallery of Art states that in the painting, “Here, citron and blue carve strong arcs that divide the picture into assertive, almost abstract, shapes.” the commentary goes on to note that, “This picture, with its bold geometry and decorative patterning of the surface, positions Cassatt with such Post–Impressionist painters as Gauguin and Van Gogh.”

MONET’S SUMMER BREEZE

We can’t discuss summer artwork without mentioning Claude Monet. His majestic paintings are recognised worldwide by everyone and anyone. He took particular pleasure in painting scenes of summer landscapes such as ‘Coquelicots, La promenade’ (1873) and ‘Camille Monet on a Garden Bench (1873). 

Painted in 1875, ‘Woman with a parasol’ portrays Monet’s wife, Camille and their son Jean in a field. The impressionist painting, created through forceful brushstrokes, creates movement in Camille’s dress capturing the breezy summer’s day.

‘Woman with a parasol’ (1875) by Claude Monet

Claude Monet has a wonderful aptness to portray the summertime landscape in his paintings. The ‘Terrace at Sainte-Adresse’ was painted in the summer of 1879 when Monet spent the season at the resort town of Sainte-Adresse. The subjects are believed to be the painter’s family – father, sister, his cousin’s wife and her father. On the horizon, Monet paints Honfleur, a port town in northwestern France.

‘Terrace at Sainte-Adresse’ (1879) by Claude Monet

An interesting fact about the ‘Terrace at Sainte-Adresse’, Monet called this work, “the Chinese painting in which there are flags”. Monet emphasised the flat surface of the canvas, showing his admiration for Japanese prints.

LUXE, CALME ET VOLUPTÉ

Another French artist inspired by another French summer. Henri Matisse painted ‘Luxe, Calme et Volupté’ (luxury, calm and pleasure) in 1904 after spending a summer working in St. Tropez on the French Riviera.

‘Luxe, Calme et Volupté’ (1904) by Henri Matisse

The intense, brilliant colours combined with the divisionist technique captures the summer light, creating a dreamlike summer scene. The subjects pass their time on the beach, soaking in the warm weather. The title of the painting really encapsulates the scene.

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