Musée d'Orsay: Georges Seurat Scene from a Play

Georges Seurat
Scene from a Play

Scene from a Play
Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Scene from a Play
Circa 1887-1888
Conte Crayon and white chalk on laid paper
H. 30.8; W. 23.6 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Scène de théâtre [Scene from a Play]

The cafés-concerts celebrated by Degas and Manet in the 1870s were open-air theatres with makeshift stages. Stars like the singer Theresa accompanied their comic songs with exaggerated gestures. In the 1880s, Seurat's decade, the café-concerts moved indoors and were held in large more or less refined rooms, even in summer. The performances developed into real variety shows which ranged from songs by Yvette Guilbert to the first scantily clad revues. Artificial stage lighting gave artists an ideal opportunity to explore light and shade effects.

As this work was not exhibited during the artist's lifetime, its original title and the name of the theatre are unknown. However it probably belongs to a series of drawings with titles referring to music halls in Montmartre. This drawing shows a scene, most likely a comic love duet, from play performed in one of these popular music halls which catered to a much broader audience. Seurat was not trying for academic precision. The velvety technique blurs the outlines. But the actors' postures are perfectly conveyed by the play of light and shade.

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