Last Days of Summer in Art

Michel Rutten 21 September 2019 min Read

The end of summer is approaching and these last days of sunshine create a kind of melancholy feeling. You probably like to look back on the past few weeks. The summer is a period in which we may feel a little happier than during the rest of the year. It also turns out to be a source of inspiration for many artists.

Let's check out these 5 summer paintings that were made in the late 1800s, early 1900s. This is the heyday of Impressionism, the painting style par excellence that uses natural sunlight. The impressionists painted "en plein air", which means that they took out their portable easel, brushes and tubes of paint to capture the colors of the moment. Just by looking at these works, you can feel the sunshine!

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

This refreshing painting by Georges Seurat shows the play of light very well: it divides the canvas into an upper part that is bathed in sunlight, and a front part, wherein people are looking for the coolness of the shadow. You will notice that the colors actually vibrate. This is because the artist has painted very small dots of contrasting colors next to each other. This style is called Pointillism, which makes the colors stand out more strongly.

Summer in Art
Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884-1886, Art Institute of Chicago, USA.

As the title of the work mentions, we see people having a lazy break on a Sunday. Sunday was a day on which Parisians could escape the hustle and bustle and the city heat. The Island of La Grande Jatte was the place to be. They could enjoy a cool breeze coming from the Seine and seek shade under the trees.

Baithers at Asnières, Georges Seurat, 1884, National Gallery, London, UK.

Seurat has painted the Seine several times, especially at times when Parisians were looking for relaxation and entertainment. In this painting everyone is depicted very formally, there is little spontaneity among the people and except for a few rowers and sailing boats, no one seeks refreshment in the water. This contrasts sharply with another painting by Seurat, Bathers at Asnières, in which people seem to have a little more fun. There are speculations that Seurat wanted to show the upper bourgeoisie in Sunday Afternoon, while he depicted the plebs in Bathers at Asnières, and thus wanted to characterize their lifestyle.  

Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet

Claude Monet, known for his majestic paintings of water lilies, depicts his wife Camille and their son Jean on a windy summer's day. The forceful brushstrokes make you feel the wind. The upward perspective in which Monet painted this work is remarkable and makes the wind that is blowing in the woman’s dress more noticeable. The long shadow that falls on the spectator reveals that the scene takes place around noon, which is why Mrs. Monet protects herself against the sun with a parasol, an accessory that was fashionable in the late 1800s. Monet must have liked this work very much because about ten years later, when he remarried, he depicted his daughter Suzanne in a similar way. 

Summer in Art
Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, 1875, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA.

Luxury, Calm and Pleasure by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse painted this progressive post-impressionist work at the French Riviera and you can notice that in the brilliance of the colors that he used. The warm sunlight gives Matisse's world a beautiful shine. The colors that he uses in the sky look like a rainbow that has fallen apart because of the heat of the sun. He applied quick paintbrushes, an influence of Paul Cézanne, which enhances the summer's light. As in Seurat's work, previously in this article, Matisse places colored dots next to each other, but does so in a more spontaneous, less technical way than Seurat, so that the light appears to be more in motion throughout the painting. Funny fact is that Matisse started this cheerful summer work in the summer, but finally finished it in his studio during the winter.

Summer in Art
Luxury, Calm and Pleasure, Henri Matisse, 1904, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.

The Port of Collioure by Andre Derain

This work was also made under the sunshine of the south of France. The view on the harbor makes you dream away to sunny summer days, filled with splashes of color.

André Derin and Henri Matisse have regularly painted together, and you can clearly see that they have influenced each other. They used the same unmixed colors and fast brush strokes. Matisse had invited Derain to come and paint in Collioure, a harbor village close to the Spanish border, because the light there is strong and the colors are bright. They painted together for two months. They made maximum use of their time together by painting the complete neighborhood. Next to different views of the harbor, Derain also painted the mountainous surroundings near Collioure, whereas Matisse has painted several street views of the village.

The collaboration between the two artists has led to a new painting genre, Fauvism. It was an art critic who came up with this term after having seen their works, which he probably didn't like. So he called them “the wild beasts”, “les fauves”. The genre only existed for a short time, after which both Matisse and Derain changed their painting style.

André Derain, The Port of Collioure, 1905, Musee d'Art Moderne de Troyes, Troyes, France.

Wheatfield with a Reaper by Vincent van Gogh

Taking place at the very end of the summer, the harvest has inspired many artists throughout the ages to create idyllic country scenes. Vincent van Gogh has been able to portray rural life like no other. As a Dutchman he has lost himself in the sunny south of France and that has inspired him to paint many colorful works. Van Gogh was not an easy-going person and he has suffered from some nervous breakdowns. That is why he has spent some time in a mental hospital.

Summer in Art
Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with a Reaper, 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

In the letters that he wrote to his brother Theo, he explains how this painting came about: from his room in the hospital he looked out onto these fields and saw the man cutting off the wheat as a metaphor of the devil (remember that he is having a breakdown). He writes: "I see him as an image of death in the sense that the humans are the corn that is being cut down... But this death is not sad, it takes place in bright light with a sun that covers everything with a light like pure gold." The frightening image in van Gogh's head takes a positive turn thanks to the warm summery colors. That's how the devil seems to be far away. Fortunately.


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