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Poplars
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Georges Seurat
French, Paris, about 1883 - 1884
Conté crayon on paper

9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.
90.GE.1

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"[E]ven [Georges Seurat's] simple sketches are so studied in contrast and gradation that one could paint from them without seeing the model again," said Seurat's contemporary, painter Paul Signac.

Seurat's large, velvety forms show dark poplar trees barely emerging from an even darker sky, their bases rooted in the meadow. Several more poplars stand at the right, more shadowy still. Clearly visible through the Conté crayon rubbing, the watermark MICHALLET emphasizes the paper's surface. This nearly abstract drawing, with its complete lack of edges among the forms, is a study in the pure interaction of light and shadow.

When Seurat returned to Paris in 1880, he spent two years drawing in only black and white. This choice allowed him to explore the phenomenon of light's interpenetration and reflection. While absorbed in his preoccupation with gradation and contrast rather than line, he soon mastered the balance of massing light and dark. He developed a unique method of rubbing Conté crayon across highly textured paper, which gave him a variety of tones according to the degree of pressure he applied.