Helene Kröller-Müller wrote the following about the purchase of ‘Le Chahut’ by the French artist Georges Seurat: ‘When my youngest son saw it for the first time he said: “But mama, surely it’s not possible for you to buy a dance? Now, for the first time I no longer understand you.” Yes, how was it possible? But nonetheless I had to tell him that no painting had grabbed me in such a long time quite like this work by Seurat.’
Seurat completed ‘Le Chahut’ in 1890. For him it was an experiment, an attempt to apply his theories about colour in a painting. ‘Le Chahut’ not only had to provide a reflection of reality but must also exude atmosphere. According to Seurat a painting should show joy, peace or sorrow. In the case of ‘Le Chahut’ that is the jolly atmosphere of a Parisian café, which Seurat emphasises with light, warm colours and many ascending lines. Examples of these ascending lines are the dancers’ legs, the conductor’s neck and even mouths, eyebrows and moustaches.
Like the Impressionists, Seurat was fascinated by light and colour. But he found Impressionist art too emotional. As a reaction to this he developed a painting technique that displays none of the painter’s personality. He used only seven colours, which he applied in small dabs so close to one another that the eye blends them into forms and subtle tints. This Neo-Impressionist manner of painting is called pointillism, from the French word ‘point’ which means ‘dab’. Seurat was the founder of this technique and was personally active in spreading it among other artists. Following a visit from Seurat, Vincent van Gogh fell under the influence of his painting technique and choice of colours.