Final Flourish The Impressionists: Painting and Revolution


Final Flourish

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This is the last film in the series.

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It's where we explore some complex technical issues

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about colour wheels and optics, so I'm just testing all the equipment,

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making sure it's working.

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The magic wheel of light...

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Yep, that's working perfectly.

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Monet's glasses are perfect.

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Can't see a thing.

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Good! That's all working. So we're ready to go

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with the final film in the story of Impressionism.

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SONG: L'Ogre featuring 70 Million by Hold Your Horses!

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# Though it hardly looked like a novel at all

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# And the city treats me, it treats me to you

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# And a cup of coffee for you

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# I should learn its language and speak it to you

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# And 70 million should be in the know

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# And 70 million don't go out at all

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# And 70 million wouldn't walk this street

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# And 70 million would run to a hole

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# And 70 million would be wrong, wrong, wrong

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# And 70 million never see it at all

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# And 70 million haven't tasted snow #

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This is the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris,

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France's most prestigious art school.

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It was established in 1648 by Louis XIV,

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so this is one of the most historic locations

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in the story of art.

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'Usually I wouldn't bring you anywhere near here

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'in a film about the Impressionists.

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'Impressionism was modern,

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'and this place isn't.'

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Perversely, though, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts

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played a huge role in the story of Impressionism,

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because this grandest of art schools is where Georges Seurat studied.

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Ah, yes - Seurat, king of the dots!

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He painted some of the best-known pictures

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in the chronicles of Impressionism.

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But the man himself was a mystery.

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The only photograph you'll ever see of him is this one.

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And the only real evidence of his thinking is his art,

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with its strange stiffness,

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and those puzzling dots.

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This is a film about the final days of Impressionism,

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how it ended and what it became,

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so of course Seurat has to feature.

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Seurat was invited to show with the Impressionists by Pissarro.

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He was completely unknown then.

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But when this famous picture, A Sunday Afternoon On La Grand Jatte,

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popped up in the last Impressionist exhibition of 1886,

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everybody noticed it.

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Impressionism was obviously on to something new here.

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But what the hell was it? If you ask ten art critics about Seurat,

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you'll get ten different opinions.

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He was such a private and elusive painter,

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kept it all locked away, stored in here.

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'Until Seurat arrived,

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'Impressionism had been happy to capture the moment,

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'and to live for the present.

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'Remember all that joie de vivre you saw in the earlier films -

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'Renoir's boating parties,

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'Monet's beautiful days.'

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Suddenly none of it seemed enough any more.

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Seurat's pictures are looking for something deeper,

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less fidgety,

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more permanent.

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'Seurat was a student here at the posh Ecole des Beaux-Arts

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'from 1878.

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'He was here for two years,

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'surrounded by the past.

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His parents were very well off, so he never had to work,

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and by rights, he should have become

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a very traditional and conservative painter,

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the kind of artist who does this.

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But he didn't. Instead, Seurat became this sort of artist,

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and this.

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These were, are, and always will be strange pictures.

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And the first of them, The Bathers At Asnieres,

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was begun when he was just 23 -

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his first masterpiece, and already so puzzling.

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WATER SPLASHING

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I reckon it was painted about here. See that bridge there?

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That's the railway bridge at Asnieres,

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and you can just about make it out way in the distance

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in Seurat's Bathers.

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# La fille du roi

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# Etait a sa fenetre

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# La fille du roi...

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It's a sunny day by the river, probably a Sunday.

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That was when working men in Paris generally had their day off,

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and all the bathers at Asnieres are working men.

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You can tell from their overalls and their battered bowler hats.

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Perhaps they're workmen from the factories

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you can see in the distance at Clichy.

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Clichy had become a busy factory district,

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so all the chaps by the river here could be workmen

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taking time off together in a bloke-ish fashion,

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as blokes do.

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Bathing was traditionally a feminine subject in art,

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an excuse for naughty Old Masters

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to paint beautiful young women naked and wet.

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So Seurat, by confining his picture to men,

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is already being revolutionary and confrontational.

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One of the boys in the water, the one with his back turned to us,

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is clearly based on a famous painting by Ingres

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that hangs in the Louvre - the Valpincon Bather,

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a mysterious Oriental odalisque

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whose naked back would drive men wild.

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# Joli tambour, tu n'es pas assez riche

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# Joli tambour, tu n'es pas assez riche...

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'Actually hanging in the chapel at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts,

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'where Seurat studied, was a set of copies of Piero della Francesca,

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'the calmest and most luminous of Renaissance Old Masters.'

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They were hung there to inspire the students,

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and they obviously did, because Seurat took the pose

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of the man sitting on the riverbank directly from Piero.

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If you've been watching the rest of this series,

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you'll have seen painter after painter

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deliberately taking on the Old Masters.

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Renoir did it, Degas, and now Seurat.

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All of them set out to prove

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that the modern world can be just as monumental,

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just as heroic and beautiful, as the ancient world.

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'In the end, it's probably the most important

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'of all Impressionism's revolutionary messages -

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'the present is just as precious as the past.'

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# Il y en a de plus jolies

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# Il y en a de plus jolies #

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Seurat was so secretive

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that he only told his parents he had a mistress and a son

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the day before he died.

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Till then, no-one had known

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that the bosomy Madeleine Knobloch was Seurat's lover

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and the mother of his child.

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With a man as secretive as this,

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you need to dig deep to break the code.

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So Seurat wasn't a student at the Ecole for very long, was he?

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No. He had been a student for two years only.

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He was admitted with bad marks, and his marks were worse and worse,

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because he was not a conventional student.

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The other thing that was very important for Seurat

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when he was here at the Ecole

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was his exposure to lots of scientific books.

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I mean, there's a famous book called The Grammar Of Art

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by Charles Blanc, who was actually director here at the time.

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Yes. Charles Blanc wrote this book,

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Grammar Of The Art Of Drawing.

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It means that Charles Blanc discovered laws for colours

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and for lines - warm colours,

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and lines going up,

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convey a feeling of joy, of pleasure.

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-Happiness.

-Of happiness.

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Of course, with cold colours and dark colours,

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it's an impression of sadness.

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You've got here the actual books that Seurat could have looked at

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in the library. This is, I know, one of the most important for him.

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This is Chevreul, with his theories of colour.

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The first thing, of course, you see about it

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is that most of the illustrations are these beautiful arrays of dots.

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Yes. There are lots of experiences about colours

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in those books. Of course it's rather scientific,

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but it was meant to help the painters.

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Mm. Well, it certainly helped Seurat, didn't it,

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because, if you're looking for the origin of Seurat's dots,

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I think you don't need to look much further than here, do you?

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Er...

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It's complicated.

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Why did Seurat paint dots? It's the first thing we need to clear up.

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What were the dots supposed to do?

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To find out, I've transformed the old chapel

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at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts into a Seurat laboratory,

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where we're going to carry out some experiments...

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..with colour.

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OK, it's not state-of-the-art,

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but, then, I'm not sure that Seurat or his dots ever were

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quite as dauntingly scientific as he made out.

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What's certain is that this is the great period of colour exploration.

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Various theories were being proposed to explain the behaviour of colour,

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and the first thing to grasp here

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is the difference between colour as a pigment...

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..and colour as light.

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Pigment and light have different properties.

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If I mix blue, red and green as pigment,

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I end up with a dark-brown mess.

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But if I mix them as light...

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..the opposite happens.

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Blue, red and green become white,

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or, at least, a luminous grey.

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What Seurat decided to do was to put down his pigments

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in blobs or dots, so that instead of mixing on the canvas,

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they would mix in your eye,

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in a manner that was luminous and full of light.

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The culmination of Seurat's investigations into dotty-ism,

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his masterpiece, was this unmistakably mysterious scene

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of A Sunday Afternoon On The Grande Jatte.

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It's such a strange, strange picture.

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I've come here to Chicago to see it maybe a dozen times now,

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and I still don't really get it.

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What a thing to come up with in 1884!

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Here in America,

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Buffalo Bill was still shooting at Chief Sitting Bull.

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But in Montmartre, in his mysterious scientific studio,

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Seurat was concocting this.

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It reminds me of those frescoes in Pompeii

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that were trapped under the ashes of Vesuvius.

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History has been frozen.

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A moment in time has been turned into something eternal.

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La Grande Jatte was a tiny island on the Seine,

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upon which Parisian leisure-seekers would descend in droves

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on a Sunday to stroll about, parade and flirt.

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These days it's a dump, frankly.

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Fashionable society doesn't come down here any more.

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They've left the banks of La Grande Jatte

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to the junkies and the joggers.

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But in Seurat's day, in the 1880s,

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this was THE place to go,

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particularly if you were a fashionable chap

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looking for an unattached girl -

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because La Grande Jatte was full of them.

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It was known as the island of love,

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and a good many of the fashionable ladies

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strolling around La Grande Jatte in their Sunday best

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were working girls fishing for clients.

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Everyone looking at this picture in the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition

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of 1886 would have known immediately what Seurat was implying.

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I mean, this girl over here,

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the one fishing on the riverbank -

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she doesn't look like an angler to me.

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What's she really fishing for?

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And the big couple over here...

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To us they seem terribly respectable,

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so tall and stately.

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But Seurat's audience would have known at once

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that he was a client

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and she was a prostitute.

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In the middle of the picture, so central and important-looking,

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Seurat has placed a mother and her angelic daughter,

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dressed all in white.

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They seem to be looking straight at us,

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straight at the future, as it were.

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What does that future hold for them, Seurat seems to be asking.

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What does it hold for all the little girls

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running around La Grande Jatte so innocently?

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La Grande Jatte was inspired by another painting

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that's also here in Chicago -

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The Sacred Grove,

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by Puvis de Chavannes.

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Puvis was the elder statesman of French art.

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His pale, mysterious symbolism was much admired

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by various Impressionists, especially Seurat.

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That sense of being frozen in time

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is something that Seurat definitely took from Puvis.

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But Puvis' picture isn't set in the modern world.

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It's set somewhere way back in time,

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on an idyllic mythological island,

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where the nine muses of art

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have gathered to stroll and think and look lovely.

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So what Seurat has done...

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is to update the sacred grove,

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to show us what such a place might look like

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in 1884 AD rather than BC.

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La Grande Jatte shows us what the modern world has become,

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and niggles us to compare it with what it used to be.

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There's something else that's important.

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I'm absolutely certain that La Grande Jatte here

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was painted as a deliberate parallel...

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..to the bathers at Asnieres.

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The two pictures were meant to work together,

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a deliberate call and response...

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..between posh Parisian society on the Right Bank,

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with its parasols and its smart folk,

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and the world of the workers on the Left Bank

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with the belching factories and the smoking chimneys.

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Look at the way the boy here, the one in the water,

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is calling over to the other side of the river...

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..where the people on the opposite bank watch him so silently

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and glumly. On this side of the river,

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something massive and threatening has cast a huge shadow

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across La Grande Jatte.

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But not on the other side,

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even though the sun is in the same place.

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On this side of the river, people take their shirts off

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and sit in the sun.

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On the other side, everyone hides under their parasols

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and keeps their tops on.

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So Seurat has produced a stereo image of modern Paris,

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a heads and a tails...

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..two sides of the modern world confronting each other

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across the river.

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Right. This is another crucial aspect of Seurat's optical theory,

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about the importance of the afterimage.

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In a moment, the screen you're watching is going to go blank,

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completely white.

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But please don't turn over to another channel.

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Keep watching. If you want to understand Seurat's colour theory,

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you need to keep looking at this screen.

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So, are you ready? Here we go.

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Right. See the red rectangle? Just keep staring at it.

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Don't look away. Keep looking at it.

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One, two,

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three... Don't look away.

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Four... Keep staring. Five...

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Now look. What do you see?

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A green shape, right?

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Did you see it - the green afterimage?

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That wasn't really there. That was just a retinal memory

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in your eye, and Seurat, with his dots,

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was trying to control that sensation.

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He knew that when he put down a colour,

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you would also see its complementary,

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so when he put down red, you would also see green next to it.

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And if in his painting he actually put green next to red,

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he knew that the green would seem greener there

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and the red would seem redder.

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In theory, he was trying to turn painting into science,

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to control your vision. But he never quite pulled it off.

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In reality, there were just too many things to juggle with,

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too many optical issues, too many dots.

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SEAGULLS CRYING

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WIND BLOWING SOFTLY

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Working on these giant masterpieces was exhausting and demanding.

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So when La Grande Jatte was finished,

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Seurat began a set of smaller views of the sea...

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..his marine landscapes.

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SEAGULLS CRYING

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Every summer, he'd head for the French coast,

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book himself into a small hotel or lodgings,

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and embark upon a meticulous campaign

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of sea paintings.

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Seurat's marine views are among his most accessible

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and delightful achievements.

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Every summer from 1885,

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he went somewhere else and did some more.

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"Let's go and get drunk on light," he wrote of his journeys to the sea.

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Interestingly, though, and typically,

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Seurat didn't go south to the Mediterranean

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like the other Impressionists.

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He went north to the Channel coast,

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where the sea can be bleak and austere...

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..and where these long, low dune-scapes

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alternate with rocky and craggy headlands.

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SEAGULLS CRYING

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WAVES MURMURING

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In 1890, he spent the summer here at Gravelines.

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It's near Dunkirk and Calais, almost on the Belgian border,

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and beaches don't get much longer or bare than they are here.

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The most intriguing of the Gravelines paintings

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were done from here, the quay in front of the lighthouse,

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looking out across the water

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to where the old signal mast used to stand,

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showing how high the tides were.

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In one of his views from here,

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Seurat captures so masterfully the pale tonality

0:24:540:24:59

of the sunny days you get around here.

0:24:590:25:02

There's hardly anything there.

0:25:020:25:04

It's so white, so watery,

0:25:040:25:06

like the tenth cup of tea from the same teabag.

0:25:060:25:10

Then, from more or less the same place on the same quay,

0:25:120:25:17

he painted the same view in the evening,

0:25:170:25:21

so same place, but completely different mood.

0:25:210:25:26

This time it's twilight.

0:25:290:25:32

The coast is glowing darkly.

0:25:330:25:36

Night is at hand.

0:25:360:25:38

One reality, two viewpoints.

0:25:400:25:43

This is Impressionism becoming something else.

0:25:440:25:48

Impressionism is breaching the fourth dimension.

0:25:500:25:54

In that influential book by Charles Blanc

0:26:290:26:33

on the grammar of art that Seurat read as a student,

0:26:330:26:36

there's a picture of a set of faces

0:26:360:26:38

drawn by Humbert de Superville,

0:26:380:26:41

another of these wacky pseudo-scientists

0:26:410:26:45

who were publishing their theories at the time,

0:26:450:26:47

and de Superville's faces illustrate the emotional power of lines.

0:26:470:26:55

So this face here...

0:26:550:26:57

..is happy, joyous...

0:27:010:27:03

..while this one is glum and down.

0:27:040:27:08

And the one in the middle, well, that's...

0:27:100:27:13

..calm, contented,

0:27:150:27:18

composed.

0:27:180:27:20

All done with simple lines.

0:27:220:27:25

This idea that horizontal lines create sensations of calmness

0:27:290:27:35

is one of the reasons why Seurat came to this coast.

0:27:350:27:39

France doesn't get much flatter or more exactly divided

0:27:410:27:45

than it does here.

0:27:450:27:47

In his day scene from here,

0:27:500:27:52

Seurat's gone for an impression of immense calmness,

0:27:520:27:56

with these clear verticals above the horizon,

0:27:560:27:59

and a stretch of sandy emptiness below.

0:27:590:28:03

But the evening scene goes for the opposite effect.

0:28:050:28:09

In the evening scene, Gravelines puts on its sad face.

0:28:120:28:17

The boats are scowling.

0:28:170:28:20

The anchors are downcast.

0:28:200:28:22

Gravelines at sunset is glum.

0:28:240:28:27

So here's an artist treating emotion as a scientific challenge,

0:28:310:28:37

manipulating your moods

0:28:370:28:39

with carefully considered painting strategies,

0:28:390:28:43

as if he were a scientist and you were the guinea pig.

0:28:430:28:47

LIVELY ACCORDION MUSIC

0:28:470:28:50

CAN-CAN MUSIC

0:28:560:28:59

MEN WHISTLING AND HOOTING

0:28:590:29:01

Seurat died when he was just 31 -

0:29:030:29:06

such an early departure for such a big talent...

0:29:060:29:11

..particularly since his work was getting stranger and stranger.

0:29:120:29:16

I mean, the marine paintings are beautiful enough,

0:29:160:29:19

but everything else he was doing in Paris was increasingly eccentric.

0:29:190:29:23

CAN-CAN MUSIC CONTINUES

0:29:230:29:26

Seurat had developed a taste for theatres and circuses,

0:29:260:29:31

and in a set of strikingly unusual pictures,

0:29:310:29:34

had taken to recording the nocturnal pleasures

0:29:340:29:38

of the Parisian bourgeois.

0:29:380:29:41

SHOUTING AND APPLAUSE

0:29:410:29:44

CAN-CAN MUSIC CONTINUES

0:29:470:29:49

'His final painting, Seurat's last masterpiece,

0:29:490:29:54

'was, of all things, a painting of some can-can dancers.'

0:29:540:29:59

The can-can, or chahut as it was known,

0:30:040:30:07

wasn't really a dance at all.

0:30:070:30:09

It was a bit of late-night Parisian naughtiness,

0:30:090:30:12

in which provocative women would throw up their skirts,

0:30:120:30:16

-expose a bit of leg, and whoop.

-DANCER WHOOPS

0:30:160:30:20

CAN-CAN MUSIC

0:30:200:30:22

Seurat's painting is usually seen as one of his brainy attempts

0:30:220:30:27

to put theory into action.

0:30:270:30:30

All these dizzy diagonals

0:30:300:30:32

are supposed to create a sense of gaiety.

0:30:320:30:35

It's the lessons of Humbert de Superville again.

0:30:350:30:39

But if Seurat really was trying to paint a gay and happy picture,

0:30:410:30:45

he hasn't exactly succeeded, has he?

0:30:450:30:49

There's a stiff and forced air to Seurat's Chahut.

0:30:500:30:54

If this is a fun night out,

0:30:540:30:56

I think I'd rather stay at home.

0:30:560:30:59

But I don't think it was meant to be a fun night out.

0:31:010:31:05

I think Seurat's motives were deeper and darker.

0:31:050:31:09

These days we think of the can-can as a seedy tourist attraction,

0:31:090:31:13

something to go and watch in the Place Pigalle.

0:31:130:31:16

But in Seurat's time, it was genuinely dangerous and decadent -

0:31:160:31:21

so decadent that the anarchists actually blew up

0:31:210:31:25

a notorious can-can club in Lyons,

0:31:250:31:28

because they saw it as the embodiment of bourgeois decay.

0:31:280:31:32

For me, all of Seurat's paintings have this niggling, insistent sense

0:31:350:31:40

of politics about them,

0:31:400:31:43

as if they're trying to comment in secret

0:31:430:31:46

on the world around them,

0:31:460:31:49

its phoniness and silliness and hypocrisy.

0:31:490:31:53

The more I look at Seurat's art, the more firmly I'm convinced

0:31:550:31:59

that under this cloak of colour theory

0:31:590:32:01

and the lines of emotion, what we really have here

0:32:010:32:04

is a very pessimistic observer of modern life.

0:32:040:32:09

CAN-CAN MUSIC

0:32:090:32:11

Impressionism had grown cynical,

0:32:110:32:13

disillusioned with the illusions.

0:32:130:32:15

Having set out to see the modern world properly,

0:32:150:32:19

it was now seeing it all too well.

0:32:190:32:22

Art was changing moods.

0:32:220:32:25

There's an old Dutch proverb that says,

0:32:370:32:40

"If the sky is blue, it'll be grey tomorrow."

0:32:400:32:45

The Dutch, alas, are not a cheery bunch.

0:32:450:32:49

Amazingly, though, Holland and the Dutch

0:32:570:33:00

played a big role in the story of Impressionism.

0:33:000:33:03

Monet came here on several productive visits,

0:33:030:33:07

and painted glorious flower scenes

0:33:070:33:10

of the tulip paradise in miraculous bloom.

0:33:100:33:15

But Holland's greatest gift to Impressionism

0:33:190:33:22

was a redhead, small and wiry,

0:33:220:33:26

beady-eyed and grumpy.

0:33:260:33:29

It's that brilliant little Dutch gnome, Vincent van Gogh,

0:33:300:33:35

or, as his own people call him, "FAN GOFF!"

0:33:350:33:40

If you think Van Gogh was cuddly, think again.

0:33:430:33:47

He was dark, driven, obsessive.

0:33:470:33:51

His father was a Dutch pastor,

0:33:510:33:54

and a gloomy world view was Van Gogh's inheritance.

0:33:540:33:59

As another gloomy Dutch proverb puts it,

0:34:000:34:03

"A frog will always jump back into the pool,

0:34:030:34:08

even if it sits on a golden throne."

0:34:080:34:11

You can never escape your past.

0:34:120:34:14

A frog will always be a frog.

0:34:140:34:18

'Van Gogh's energetic attempts to escape the pond

0:34:230:34:26

'took him to England, then Belgium,

0:34:260:34:30

'and finally to Paris,

0:34:300:34:32

'where he arrived in 1886,

0:34:320:34:36

'just in time to see the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition.'

0:34:360:34:41

Van Gogh's younger brother, Theo, was an art dealer in Paris,

0:34:470:34:52

who'd been supporting the Impressionists.

0:34:520:34:54

So when Vincent suddenly turned up here,

0:34:540:34:57

the good news was that he could get up to speed quickly

0:34:570:35:01

on the latest developments in art.

0:35:010:35:03

The bad news was that he had nowhere to live,

0:35:030:35:06

and was moving in with Theo.

0:35:060:35:10

'These days we think of Van Gogh as a soulful, warm-hearted genius,

0:35:120:35:18

'a fragile soul too brittle for the modern world.'

0:35:180:35:22

He was a genius, all right, but he was also the last person on Earth

0:35:240:35:28

you'd want moving into your flat.

0:35:280:35:31

Disruptive, decrepit, difficult,

0:35:330:35:37

Van Gogh had no personal hygiene whatsoever,

0:35:370:35:41

and drank like a fish.

0:35:410:35:43

After a couple of absinthes,

0:35:440:35:46

he could start a fight with a Buddhist monk.

0:35:460:35:49

His health was shot, too. When he arrived in Paris,

0:35:520:35:55

he was already suffering from syphilis,

0:35:550:35:57

and in Belgium, where he'd just dropped out of art school again,

0:35:570:36:01

his teeth had rotted so badly

0:36:010:36:04

he had to have ten of them taken out in one go.

0:36:040:36:07

That's why you never see Vincent smiling

0:36:110:36:14

in any of the fierce and brooding self-portraits

0:36:140:36:17

he began churning out in Paris.

0:36:170:36:20

In his troubled vision of himself,

0:36:220:36:24

Van Gogh always kept his mouth shut.

0:36:240:36:28

In real life, it never was,

0:36:280:36:31

particularly after a drink or two.

0:36:310:36:34

Vincent and Theo lived just here at the bottom of Montmartre,

0:36:410:36:45

at 54 Rue Lepic,

0:36:450:36:48

up on the third floor,

0:36:480:36:50

where Vincent soon made sure the rooms were so squalid

0:36:500:36:54

that Theo was embarrassed to invite anyone round.

0:36:540:36:57

The Rue Lepic was just a stone's throw away

0:37:010:37:04

from the Moulin de la Galette -

0:37:040:37:06

once a windmill, now a can-can joint.

0:37:060:37:11

By the time Vincent arrived in Montmartre,

0:37:150:37:18

most of the old windmills had been turned into bars and cabarets.

0:37:180:37:22

But from the outside at least, this still looked like home.

0:37:220:37:27

If anyone was ever handing out prizes

0:37:300:37:33

for the least familiar views of Impressionist Paris,

0:37:330:37:38

then, Van Gogh's gloomy cityscapes would surely win.

0:37:380:37:42

With all these rickety windmills dotted about,

0:37:460:37:49

Van Gogh's Paris looks more like Holland than France.

0:37:490:37:52

In those days, Montmartre was still a messy scrubland

0:37:520:37:57

of working gardens and scruffy allotments.

0:37:570:38:00

Exiled in this pretend Holland,

0:38:040:38:07

a lonely Dutch frog was missing its pond.

0:38:070:38:11

Apart from walking, painting and arguing,

0:38:160:38:20

Vincent's other great hobby was drinking.

0:38:200:38:23

He did a lot of that - some of it in here.

0:38:230:38:26

CHATTERING AND LAUGHTER

0:38:260:38:28

The Lapin Agile, or Agile Rabbit,

0:38:300:38:33

is the only bar in Montmartre

0:38:330:38:36

that remains more or less as Vincent would have known it...

0:38:360:38:39

ACCORDION MUSIC

0:38:390:38:42

..small, dark and shabby.

0:38:420:38:45

-Une cerise, s'il vous plait.

-Oui.

0:38:470:38:49

To get Vincent out of the house,

0:38:490:38:51

Theo enrolled him in an art school on the Boulevard de Clichy,

0:38:510:38:55

the Atelier Cormon, where the head boy was a small chap

0:38:550:39:00

called Toulouse Lautrec. Merci.

0:39:000:39:02

Vincent wasn't the art-school type.

0:39:080:39:10

He was studying mostly at the bar,

0:39:100:39:14

and it wasn't for a law degree.

0:39:140:39:17

One of Vincent's most striking Paris pictures

0:39:190:39:22

is actually a portrait of a glass of absinthe

0:39:220:39:26

sitting daintily on a cafe table.

0:39:260:39:29

They called it "the green fairy",

0:39:330:39:36

because when you poured in the water,

0:39:360:39:39

absinthe would go milky green - pretty and dangerous.

0:39:390:39:43

And that's what Vincent's painted - a glass of absinthe

0:39:440:39:48

sitting on its own in a bar,

0:39:480:39:51

like a pretty girl waiting to be chatted up.

0:39:510:39:54

It was about now that he got himself involved

0:39:560:39:59

in a grubby little love affair

0:39:590:40:01

with a local bar-owner called Agostina Segatori.

0:40:010:40:05

Agostina was in her mid-40s when she met Van Gogh.

0:40:070:40:11

She was from Naples originally,

0:40:110:40:14

and had come to Paris, like so many Italian girls,

0:40:140:40:18

to pose for artists.

0:40:180:40:20

She was dark and fiery, and much in demand among those salon painters

0:40:220:40:27

who specialised in Middle Eastern slave scenes.

0:40:270:40:31

By taking her clothes off, Agostina saved enough money

0:40:310:40:34

to open a small restaurant on the Boulevard de Clichy

0:40:340:40:38

-called Le Tambourin...

-HE JINGLES TAMBOURINE

0:40:380:40:41

..because the tables there were all shaped like tambourines.

0:40:410:40:45

Her affair with Vincent was short-lived and unhappy,

0:40:470:40:51

one of those grim urban collisions you get in the modern city,

0:40:510:40:54

joyless and lonely.

0:40:540:40:57

But it did at least inspire some fascinating art.

0:40:580:41:02

The only nudes that Vincent ever painted

0:41:040:41:07

are pictures of Agostina.

0:41:070:41:10

Most nudes in art pretend they have some higher purpose,

0:41:110:41:17

but not these. They're shockingly direct,

0:41:170:41:20

and very physical.

0:41:200:41:23

Agostina was notoriously hard-headed.

0:41:370:41:41

She let Vincent swap some of his paintings for meals,

0:41:410:41:45

but they had to be flower paintings,

0:41:450:41:47

the only pictures of his she thought she could sell.

0:41:470:41:51

If you look carefully at his glum portrait

0:41:540:41:58

of Agostina looking tough and alienated at Le Tambourin,

0:41:580:42:03

you can make out some fuzzy shapes on the wall behind.

0:42:030:42:07

They're Japanese prints, a new passion of Van Gogh's.

0:42:090:42:14

Agostina let him put on a show of them at Le Tambourin,

0:42:140:42:18

and he's painted her sitting in front of it.

0:42:180:42:22

These Japanese prints changed Vincent's art dramatically.

0:42:250:42:30

It was as if someone suddenly threw open a door

0:42:300:42:33

and let in colour.

0:42:330:42:35

His final portrait of Agostina, before their squalid city romance

0:42:370:42:42

disintegrated into arguments and name-calling,

0:42:420:42:46

is a full-colour revelation...

0:42:460:42:49

..Agostina, in her Italian folk costume,

0:42:510:42:55

as sun-drenched and yellow as a sunflower in August.

0:42:550:43:00

Van Gogh was only in Paris for two years

0:43:020:43:05

before he suddenly decided to leave for the South of France,

0:43:050:43:08

just as abruptly as he had arrived.

0:43:080:43:11

So this Impressionist phase of his was really short,

0:43:110:43:15

but the change in his work was momentous.

0:43:150:43:19

This is Van Gogh at the beginning of his stay in Paris.

0:43:210:43:25

And here he is 18 months later,

0:43:260:43:29

once Impressionism and Japanese prints had got to him.

0:43:290:43:33

This isn't progress.

0:43:340:43:37

This is an identity swap.

0:43:370:43:40

The Eighth Impressionist Exhibition of 1886,

0:43:450:43:48

which unleashed Seurat on the world

0:43:480:43:52

and transformed Van Gogh,

0:43:520:43:54

turned out to be the last.

0:43:540:43:57

Impressionism had opened its final door,

0:43:580:44:02

and all sorts of art was rushing through it.

0:44:020:44:05

Among the original Impressionists,

0:44:070:44:10

the hard-core founding members,

0:44:100:44:13

Pissarro had a bash at Seurat's new style,

0:44:130:44:17

but he wasn't much good at it.

0:44:170:44:19

In the end, he went back to his first ambition

0:44:200:44:23

of capturing the busy rhythms of modern Paris.

0:44:230:44:28

Renoir, alas, turned into something ghastly -

0:44:340:44:39

a peddler of plump and greasy nudes

0:44:390:44:42

which he churned out like a string of pork sausages.

0:44:420:44:47

The true hero among the original Impressionists,

0:44:520:44:55

the ones who started it all, was Monet.

0:44:550:44:59

The second half of Monet's career

0:45:000:45:02

was even more radical than the first.

0:45:020:45:05

RIPPLING CLASSICAL PIANO MUSIC

0:45:150:45:18

This is Giverny, of course,

0:45:230:45:26

where he spent the last 40-odd years of his life,

0:45:260:45:29

and where he planted this famous garden.

0:45:290:45:32

And one of the reasons he created this garden

0:45:370:45:40

was to make life easier for himself,

0:45:400:45:43

so he wouldn't have to travel so far...

0:45:430:45:46

..to find his subjects.

0:45:490:45:52

The Haystacks, that unprecedented series of outdoor picturings

0:45:590:46:04

that Monet embarked upon in the 1890s

0:46:040:46:07

were painted out here, in the fields just behind the garden.

0:46:070:46:12

He'd load up a wheelbarrow with canvasses, paints, easels,

0:46:140:46:19

get a lackey from the house to help him push it,

0:46:190:46:21

and park himself in a nearby field,

0:46:210:46:24

where he'd set up a row of easels and dart from canvas to canvas,

0:46:240:46:29

painting the different light effects as the day changed.

0:46:290:46:34

It was a simple idea, but something no-one had ever done before -

0:46:370:46:42

a completely new way of painting.

0:46:420:46:46

Apparently the local peasants, who didn't like Monet or modern art,

0:46:510:46:55

would demolish their haystacks early on purpose,

0:46:550:46:59

just to annoy him.

0:46:590:47:01

Although he first came to Giverny in 1883,

0:47:100:47:14

he actually waited a couple of decades

0:47:140:47:18

before he began painting the most famous bit of his famous garden -

0:47:180:47:22

the pond.

0:47:220:47:24

These are the first water-lily paintings that Monet did.

0:47:300:47:35

They were started in 1899,

0:47:360:47:40

so these are the last Monets of the 19th century,

0:47:400:47:45

and the first Monets of the 20th.

0:47:450:47:49

Down at the bottom here, between the house and the lily pond,

0:48:050:48:09

there used to be a railway track...

0:48:090:48:12

..and a cheery little train would puff up and down here

0:48:140:48:17

six times a day, and lift his spirits.

0:48:170:48:20

TRAIN HORN HOOTING

0:48:200:48:23

Monet loved trains.

0:48:250:48:27

They kept popping up in his art all through his career.

0:48:270:48:32

Their smoke was an exciting challenge to paint,

0:48:330:48:37

and their symbolism seemed to trigger hope in him.

0:48:370:48:41

TRAIN HORN HOOTING

0:48:410:48:43

All that changed in 1914, when the Great War broke out,

0:48:430:48:48

and the army began ferrying wounded soldiers

0:48:480:48:51

from the front line up and down here,

0:48:510:48:53

and the cheery little train became an insistent reminder

0:48:530:48:58

of war and death.

0:48:580:49:01

'What could he do? How could he help?

0:49:090:49:13

'He was in his 80s now. The days for practical action had long gone.'

0:49:140:49:19

But the war had come to his doorstep,

0:49:200:49:23

and he had to do something.

0:49:230:49:26

The answer came to him on Armistice Day itself,

0:49:300:49:33

November the 11th, 1918, the last day of the war,

0:49:330:49:37

when Monet wrote a letter to his old friend Georges Clemenceau,

0:49:370:49:42

who had now become prime minister of France.

0:49:420:49:46

Clemenceau had been an inspirational wartime leader,

0:49:490:49:53

the French Winston Churchill.

0:49:530:49:56

And unlike most politicians before and since,

0:49:560:50:01

he also understood the power of art.

0:50:010:50:04

Before he became prime minister, Clemenceau had been a journalist,

0:50:090:50:13

and he'd actually written with great insight about Monet's art.

0:50:130:50:18

They were old friends,

0:50:180:50:20

so it was to Clemenceau,

0:50:200:50:23

on Armistice Day...

0:50:230:50:25

..that Monet made his great offer.

0:50:260:50:30

To commemorate the end of the war,

0:50:320:50:34

he would give the French state a set of his pictures.

0:50:340:50:38

"It's not much," he wrote poignantly at the time,

0:50:390:50:42

"but it's the only way I have of taking part in the victory."

0:50:420:50:47

He'd been dreaming for some time of something momentous,

0:50:490:50:54

unprecedented...

0:50:540:50:56

..and already, in 1914...

0:50:570:51:00

..he'd built himself this massive new studio.

0:51:030:51:08

These days it's mostly used as the Giverny gift shop,

0:51:130:51:18

but Monet built it to realise a dream.

0:51:180:51:23

He wanted to paint a set of giant water lilies,

0:51:240:51:28

and to hang them

0:51:280:51:30

in a large, round space

0:51:300:51:34

so that they completely encircled you.

0:51:340:51:37

But there was a problem - a big one.

0:51:380:51:41

For some time now, he'd been having trouble with his eyesight.

0:51:410:51:46

Monet had developed cataracts in both of his eyes.

0:51:460:51:50

There's three types of cataract, two of which he didn't get,

0:51:530:51:57

but he did get the normal age-related cataract,

0:51:570:52:00

which is called nuclear sclerosis.

0:52:000:52:03

In that, the crystalline structure of the natural lens

0:52:030:52:06

gradually changes, and it happens to all of us, in actual fact,

0:52:060:52:10

and it yellows with age, and it kind of gets like paper,

0:52:100:52:14

yellows with age. The lens yellows with age.

0:52:140:52:18

Now, we've brought along some filters for the camera

0:52:180:52:20

on your advice, which approximate some of the effects

0:52:200:52:24

that Monet would have seen.

0:52:240:52:26

I mean, we can put on this filter now,

0:52:260:52:29

and I think what people watching will see

0:52:290:52:31

is that it's not so much blurring - it's also the colour change.

0:52:310:52:35

Absolutely, and what yellow filters do is,

0:52:350:52:38

they take out blue light, so the blues tend to go.

0:52:380:52:42

So just as your blue tie looks sort of grey now,

0:52:420:52:45

all the blues would have looked greyish to Monet.

0:52:450:52:48

They'd have morphed into one sort of splodge.

0:52:480:52:51

And as the cataracts grew worse...

0:52:510:52:54

We've brought along another filter to show what might have happened.

0:52:540:52:58

It's quite a huge difference, isn't it,

0:52:580:53:00

because the eyesight actually starts going.

0:53:000:53:03

What happens then is, the eyesight begins to blur, as well,

0:53:030:53:06

which of course is an added frustration,

0:53:060:53:09

because you can get quite a lot of cataract

0:53:090:53:11

before the eyesight starts blurring.

0:53:110:53:13

But eventually, of course, it does blur,

0:53:130:53:16

and it blurred in his case significantly.

0:53:160:53:18

He ended up having to just rely on the labels on his paints,

0:53:180:53:22

because he couldn't really tell the blues, greens

0:53:220:53:24

and the purples and that. He couldn't really tell them,

0:53:240:53:27

so he had to rely on the labels.

0:53:270:53:29

So Monet attempted to solve his problems

0:53:290:53:33

by resorting to surgery, didn't he?

0:53:330:53:36

He did. The surgery had advanced enormously by then,

0:53:360:53:41

but it consisted of taking the lens out of the eye,

0:53:410:53:45

so you had to open the eye, get the lens out,

0:53:450:53:48

and then, obviously, you have to have spectacles

0:53:480:53:51

to correct for vision,

0:53:510:53:53

which we can simulate for you, if you like.

0:53:530:53:56

So when I put these on, I will see the world

0:53:560:53:59

in the way, or nearly in the way, that Monet saw it

0:53:590:54:02

-after his operation.

-You just need a yellow filter

0:54:020:54:04

just to make it absolutely right. Have a look at your thumb.

0:54:040:54:08

-Good Lord!

-Look at your thumb.

-I can't see anything.

0:54:080:54:12

My thumb... Agh!

0:54:120:54:14

The thumb is not one thumb but two thumbs.

0:54:140:54:18

There's a big thumb in one eye,

0:54:180:54:21

and a sort of little thumb in the other.

0:54:210:54:24

-And that is...

-And the brain is incapable

0:54:240:54:27

of putting the large image with the small image

0:54:270:54:30

and giving you binocular vision.

0:54:300:54:32

I would have said that was impossible,

0:54:320:54:34

to paint with eyesight like that.

0:54:340:54:36

Absolutely impossible.

0:54:360:54:39

In fact, Monet's appalling eyesight

0:54:420:54:46

had a positive impact on his art.

0:54:460:54:49

It freed his vision,

0:54:510:54:53

and forced him to trust his imagination.

0:54:530:54:57

The French government found a superb location

0:55:020:55:05

for those water lilies he'd promised -

0:55:050:55:07

a former greenhouse on the Tuileries,

0:55:070:55:11

set magnificently on the Place de la Concorde -

0:55:110:55:16

the Orangerie.

0:55:160:55:18

The Orangerie is long and thin rather than round,

0:55:210:55:25

so Monet changed his plans.

0:55:250:55:28

Instead of one huge circular room,

0:55:280:55:33

he designed an even more ambitious scheme

0:55:330:55:37

for two interconnected ovals.

0:55:370:55:42

The Surrealist painter Andre Masson once described this

0:55:480:55:52

as the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism.

0:55:520:55:56

But it's actually two Sistine Chapels

0:55:560:55:59

laid end to end.

0:55:590:56:01

A good thing to notice about the water lilies

0:56:050:56:07

is how few water lilies there are in here.

0:56:070:56:11

There are some, of course.

0:56:110:56:13

Couple here, perhaps.

0:56:150:56:18

A clump here.

0:56:190:56:21

But there's not that many,

0:56:210:56:24

and in some places there are none at all.

0:56:240:56:28

Because Monet's great enfolding mural is concerned not with flowers,

0:56:300:56:35

but the shimmering, reflective, endlessly fascinating presence

0:56:350:56:41

of water...

0:56:410:56:43

..the darknesses it harbours,

0:56:450:56:47

the shifting reality in which it lurks and lives.

0:56:470:56:53

He's put us on an island in the middle of a lake,

0:56:540:56:57

so that the water surrounds us in every direction.

0:56:570:57:02

And when Clemenceau first saw this,

0:57:020:57:05

he suggested they should build a lift

0:57:050:57:08

right here in the middle,

0:57:080:57:10

so that visitors would be deposited at the centre of the experience

0:57:100:57:15

rather than coming in through a door at the side.

0:57:150:57:19

The job of the water lilies you do see in here

0:57:210:57:24

is to give your eyes something tangible to grasp,

0:57:240:57:28

a sense of where you are.

0:57:280:57:30

They're like coloured drawing pins

0:57:320:57:34

holding in place this shimmering, endless, sublime twilight.

0:57:340:57:41

RIPPLING CLASSICAL MUSIC

0:57:410:57:44

Monet never saw this finished.

0:57:510:57:54

He died in 1926,

0:57:540:57:57

the last of the surviving Impressionists.

0:57:570:58:01

But he'd saved his most revolutionary moment till the end.

0:58:010:58:06

I set out in this series to take Impressionism off the chocolate box,

0:58:120:58:17

to put it back into the furnace, and remind us again

0:58:170:58:22

of how brave it was, how fiery and inventive.

0:58:220:58:26

But to be honest, I've spent all this time

0:58:290:58:32

making four huge films

0:58:320:58:34

trying to convince you of how revolutionary Impressionism was,

0:58:340:58:40

when all I really had to do was to bring you in here

0:58:400:58:43

and show you that.

0:58:430:58:47

An 86-year-old Impressionist granddad did that.

0:58:480:58:53

It was wild art then, and it's wild art now.

0:58:530:58:57

This art will never be tamed.

0:58:570:59:00

If you want, you can see it as the end of Impressionism.

0:59:010:59:06

But how can the end of something be so full of possibilities?

0:59:060:59:12

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:59:190:59:23

E-mail [email protected]

0:59:230:59:27

.

0:59:270:59:27

This episode takes a closer look at the late years of Impressionism, using the last show these artists did together as a starting point.

Waldemar looks in considerable depth at the work of Georges Seurat, taking into consideration his academic training at the Beaux-Arts School in Paris and the artists that influenced him, such as Piero della Francesca and Puvis de Chavannes.

There is also an insight into the complex but fascinating world of optics and art, and the ways in which the Impressionists were using the new discoveries in light and eyesight to influence their work. A fascinating 'after-image' experiment brings to life the ways in which our own eyes see colour, both in its presence and its absence.

Van Gogh's time in Paris, a period very little is known about, is also covered, charting the incredible journey the artist made from his brown and dull canvases to the splendid colour and light that pervaded his work on the cusp of his departure for the South of France.

The film finishes with a revisiting of Monet and his later waterlily paintings in the Orangerie in Paris. Waldemar investigates how a bad case of cataracts was responsible for a seismic shift in his colour palette and his brushstrokes. Spending time with an ophthalmologist, he finds out how old age and a fairly common ailment of the eyes caused Impressionism to shift and become radical again at the turn of the century and into the 20th century.


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