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Video transcript

we're in the National Gallery in London and we're looking at actually one of my favorite paintings 19 it's a Georges Seurat and it's the bathers it's his early large masterpiece it's important that it's the bathers at asnières in the past artists paint bathers I'm les image of nudes bathing in water and here we have real Parisian people at a specific place just outside of Paris and there's specific people I don't mean their identities so much as their social cast right they're modern people of the working class and so how do we know that first I just wanna say that the painting is really big so the figures are over life-size or at least life-size right like the figure in the foreground so that it's really kind of striking in its size and your presence of the figures is actually slightly larger because he's set back a few yards and he's still the size of somebody in the gallery so how do we know they're working class so with the clothing we see for instance a bowler hat we see straw hat but more than that we see a kind of informality and I think that that's one of the ways that sera really signals class status we can tell that we're in some place that's not that fancy by the fact that we've got a kind of industrial scene in the background so we've got an industrial modern bridge we've got smokestacks we've got buildings we're not in the countryside away from everything where it's really pretty and sort of suburban and more picturesque in fact in some of the sketches that were produced in preparation for this painting there was a horse that was actually drinking in the river here which is not something that would probably been allowed where the middle class or the upper class was bathing and as if it wasn't enough in terms of what they're wearing Syrah contrast this working-class group with people of a higher status who are in the rowboat in the middle ground to the right hat in a parasol that's right fully clothed by the way despite the same heat that the working-class are enjoying and of course somebody in shirtsleeves who's working for them is doing the rowing exactly wearing very much the same kind of hat as the people in the foreground right so those those symbols were really important always of distinguishing yes and economic status in a way that's sort of what Sarah is doing right he's sort of reducing these figures we don't see much about their faces but we know who they are by what they're wearing and how they carry themselves the way actually we really identify people in modern life in the city when you walk around I think we should go back to the size thing for a second because we're kind of used to impressionist paintings looking and I'm looking in the room where we are being smaller significantly that's right easel paintings smaller easel because they would take them outside that's right and paint them out that is painting it in the studio there's something about it that looks more structured more composed he's rejecting the kind of spontaneity and informality of Impressionism almost like he's trying to bring something kind of more rigorous to Impressionism versus ISM yeah something more thoughtful something more academic I think it's really interesting the way that Seurat displays a series of cultural clues that help us in the 21st century understand the way in which society functioned on the other side of this river there is an island which is the subject of probably Sarah's most famous painting Sunday afternoon on the Isle of the grand shot but that painting is a depiction of middle class and the upper middle class and it's very very different the figures are far less informal they tend to be fully clothed and there are a set of signals that really place them in an upper echelon in the social structure this is across the river and although they're sharing a body of water although they're all there for the same thing which is to relax and cool off in the summer the way in which they're portrayed the way in which they're framed is important for us in terms of understanding the way that 19th century social structures were built but also I think it's really interesting cerrada wasn't painting for us he was painting both as a display and in some ways I think a critique of 19th century social structures so he was deliberately making these structures obvious to the people of that time there is a definite kind of social critique here class and mores also kind of I think awareness of what was new about life in the late 19th century and giving that to us in this giant scale you know the idea of leisure time the idea that you you know you could work in those factories down the river clocked in you clocked out and then you had your separate leisure time where you went and did something kind of specific in your leisure time the way that we all still do today and so all of this kind of way of living is relatively new in the 19th century and serratus is drawing our attention to it one of the things that saw as most well-known for is for his style for the style that he develops for his color for his application of paint many people refer to him as a pointillist right so those little dots right those little dots now this is a little early to the little Dawson's instead mostly what you have are little cross hatchings which are achieving much the same thing which is to say a much more complex construction of color by putting colors next to each other rather than trying to mix them on on a pallet so that they mix in the eye so actually called optical mixture it is based on 19th century scientific understanding of color and color theory is bringing science and thought and rigor to Impressionism so we've got this like wonderful combination of a composition that looks thought-out right it's got that diagonal line it's got figures who look very carefully placed within the composition you know so he's bringing that kind of thoughtfulness to that interest in light and outdoor sunlight and modern life that was in the Impressionists so do you think like the Impressionists he's still trying to in a sense invent a kind of modern beauty a kind of urban beauty no question I think in fact he's trying to create a timelessness to say it's not just the ancients you could have timeless beauty but we in in our own lives and modern-day Paris in the 1880s have an eternal beauty of our own