Georges Seurat

Young Woman Powdering Herself

About this artwork

This unusual portrait of Seurat’s mistress, Madeleine Knobloch, is on loan from the Courtauld Gallery in London. It is a key work in the textile tycoon Samuel Courtauld’s outstanding collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, acquired in the 1920s.

Seurat was the leading exponent of a style of painting known as Neo-Impressionism, perfectly exemplified by this portrait. The paint is applied using small dots of colour (pointillism) and Seurat has built up the composition in areas of light and shade, exploring contrasts between rounded and more angular forms. Madeleine is portrayed in a humorous way, her curvaceous figure juxtaposed with the tiny table at which she is seated. She is putting on her make-up, and the painting and its laborious technique can be read as a satire on the artifice of modern urban life. An x-ray reveals that Seurat originally painted a face (said by some to be a self-portrait) in the frame on the wall, but was persuaded by a friend to paint it out and replace it with a vase of flowers.

The picture’s first owner was the well-known French critic, anarchist and art dealer Félix Fénéon, who coined the term ‘Neo-impressionism’. An interesting parallel can be drawn with the National Galleries’ La Luzerne, hanging nearby, which was owned by the English critic Roger Fry, who invented the concept of ‘Post-Impressionism’.

Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat