MoMA
Georges-Pierre Seurat. Evening, Honfleur. 1886
Georges-Pierre Seurat

Evening, Honfleur

1886
On view
Medium
Oil on canvas, with painted wood frame
Dimensions
30 3/4 x 37" (78.3 x 94 cm) including frame
Credit
Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy
Object number
266.1957

Seurat spent the summer of 1886 in the French coastal town of Honfleur in order to “wash the light of the studio” from his eyes, he said. He meticulously applied at least twenty-five colors here, in the form of thousands of dots carefully placed on the canvas. Long bands of clouds echo the horizon and the breakwaters on the beach. The vast sky and tranquil sea meet at the horizon line, bringing a sense of spacious light to the picture; yet from up close they also have a peculiar visual density. Seurat added the wooden frame later, hand-painting it with the same technique to add greater luminosity and suggest the extension of the image past its boundaries.

Gallery label from 2011
Additional text

Seurat spent the summer of 1886 in the resort town of Honfleur, on the northern French coast, a region of turbulent seas and rugged shorelines to which artists had long been attracted. But Seurat's evening scene is hushed and still. Vast sky and tranquil sea bring a sense of spacious light to the picture, yet also have a peculiar visual density. Long lines of cloud echo the breakwaters on the beach—signs of human life and order.

Seurat had used his readings of optical theory to develop a systematic technique, known as pointillism, that involved the creation of form out of small dots of pure color. In the viewer's eye, these dots can both coalesce into shapes and remain separate particles, generating a magical shimmer. A contemporary critic described the light in Evening, Honfleur and related works as a "gray dust," as if the transparency of the sky were filled with, or even constituted by, barely visible matter—a sensitive response to the paint's movement between illusion and material substance, as the dots both merge to describe the scene and break into grains of pigment.

Seurat paints a frame around the scene—buffering a transition between the world of the painting and reality; and, at the upper right, the dots on the frame grow lighter, lengthening the rays of the setting sun.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 36
Provenance information
Estate of the artist (Madeleine Knobloch), Paris, 1891 [1]; acquired by Gustave Kahn (1859-1936), Paris, 1892 [2]. Victor Claessens, Waereghem, near Brussels, before 1923 [3]; by inheritance to his son Armand Claessens, Waereghem, near Brussels, 1929 [4]; sold to Wildenstein Galleries, New York, 1937 [5]; sold to Adele R. and David M. Levy, November 1938 [6]; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1957 (Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy).
[1] C. M. de Hauke, Seurat et son oeuvre, Paris: Gründ, 1961, no. 167.
[2] Ibid. Henri Dorra and John Rewald, eds. Seurat, Paris: Les Beaux Arts, 1959, no. 171: "Gustave Kahn, Bruxelles (à partir de 1892)." Included in the exhibition Les XX, Brussels, 1892 (no. 8): "Embouchure de la Seine (Honfleur), Soir, appartient à M. G. Kahn."
[3] C. M. de Hauke, Seurat et son oeuvre, Paris: Gründ, 1961, no. 167. See letter Michel Callewaert, V.A. Claessens, Waereghem to C. de Hauke, Paris, January 17, 1958, Jacques Seligmann & Co. records, General correspondence: Michel Callewaert (Box 20, Folder 8), Archives of American Art, Washington, DC. Date of acquisition not known.
[4] Ibid. See Dorra and Rewald, 1959, no. 171. Included in the exhibition L'Impressionisme, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, June 15-September 29, 1935 (no. 75).
[5] See letter Michel Callewaert, V.A. Claessens, Waereghem to Wildenstein & Co., New York, December 20, 1957, Jacques Seligmann & Co. records, General correspondence: Michel Callewaert (Box 20, Folder 8), Archives of American Art, Washington, DC.
[6] Collection files, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource