Narrator: Toward the end of his short life, Seurat drew a series of scenes set in the Paris music halls known as Café-Concerts. This one was called the Concert Européen. In this drawing, he set out to evoke the glow of gaslight reflected on the performer's dress. But instead of leaving the paper untouched, as he had done in the past, he emphasized the effects of illumination by using white gouache, a thicker, more opaque form of watercolor.
Conservator, Karl Buchberg: Indeed, he has used two different white gouaches—one brighter than the other. The use of two different white pigments shows his interest in capturing both the highlights on her dress and the gaslights along the edge of the stage. Over time, the center of the gaslights has darkened due to atmospheric pollution and now appears to be gray instead of white.
Curator, Jodi Hauptman: We know that Seurat frequented these raucous, bustling places and the singers would perform bawdy songs. He would go and observe, and he'd return to his studio and make these drawings.
Narrator: As you can see along this wall, Seurat was not trying to convey the boisterous energy of these popular nightspots, but the magical visual atmosphere he found there – and a new kind of light.
Curator, Jodi Hauptman: If you look at the Café-Concert drawings as a group, there's almost a cinematic quality, where we see him moving in and out of the audience, now closer to the stage, now far away. And you get a real sense of what it might have been like to be in the crowd, listening to the singer.
Narrator: In other works in this series, in addition to white gouache, Seurat experimented with white chalk and colored pastels. But his experiments were tragically cut short.
Jodi Hauptman: Seurat died at the age of 31 of diphtheria. His career only lasted about 11 years. Looking back at this body of work, it seems astonishing that Seurat was able to achieve so much in such a short time.