Research point: Two artists who work in contrasting ways

Find two artists that work in contrasting ways from tight vigorous work to a more sketchy, expressive style and make notes in your learning log.

Georges Seurat (born 1859 to 1891)

Seurat is considered to be one of the most important Post-Impressionist painters. He moved away from the apparent spontaneity and rapidity of Impressionism and developed a structured way to produce his art. This, I think, makes him a good artist to choose to illustrate ‘tight, rigorous’ work.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte (1884-1886) Oil on canvas

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte (1884-1886) Oil on canvas

For his painting a Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte, he visited the Jatte, a popular place on the River Seine, every day for six months to make preparatory drawings of the landscape and to sketch the figures. Back at his studio he planned and created this complex composition.

When this picture was first shown it was disapproved of by most artists and critics because of the new painting technique known as Pointillisme whereby individual dots of pure colour are applied to the canvas. These fuse together when viewed from a distance.

This painstaking technique requires great planning and control and contrasts sharply with a  more sketchy, expressive style whereby sweeping brushstrokes may be applied quickly and with some abandon.

Almost everything in this picture looks tightly controlled. The figures look like wooden marionettes, the trees look more like the work of man than nature. Only the little dog in the front looks spirited and uncontrolled, as if it has just been let off the lead.

Seurat’s disciplined work, which contrasts with that of many of his Impressionist contemporaries, was to become very influential even though he died of a severe infection at the age of just 32.

The National Gallery
The Art Book (Phaidon Press, 1999)

Elizabeth Blackadder (1931)

Dame Elizabeth Violet Blackadder, DBE, RA, RSA.  Scottish painter and printmaker and the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy.

Elizabeth Blackadder’s detailed flower drawings, some of which are almost botanical, came to mind and I initially thought I might choose her as an artist who works in a ‘tight rigorous’ style. But on looking more closely at her work I found that she is incredibly versatile and it might be more appropriate to choose her as an artist whose work is more ‘sketchy and expressive’. So I include her for her expressive style and also to demonstrate that artists’ work doesn’t always fit into neat categories.

Some examples of her loose, flowing work:

Flowers on an Indian Cloth (1965) – Oil crayon paper. (Incidentally I’m interested in this as an example of what can be achieved with oil crayons as we’ll be using these later.)

Early Spring Anemone (1977) – watercolour on paper

And for more tight, vigorous work, take a look at:

Amaryllis (1974) Oil on canvas

Japanese Flowers Still Life (1969) oil on canvas. This image made me realise that ‘tight and vigorous’ can apply to the composition as well as the brush strokes.

It could be easy to think of Blackadder as a painter of pretty flowers and the cute cats that often feature in her later pictures, but there’s much more to her work which encompasses landscapes, portraits, people and still life. Her ‘spaced out’ compositions show a Japanese influence (she travelled there often) and an imaginative use of negative space. The wide spaces around objects are as interesting as the objects themselves. She produces work that is both loose and flowing, and tight and controlled in terms of the marks she makes and also her compositions.

National Galleries, Scotland
BBC Your paintings



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