Georges Seurat’s Romantic Relationship with Madeleine Knobloch

Georges Pierre Seurat was a famous French post-Impressionist artist during the 19th century. He is the creator of prominent painting techniques that are commonly used today. Seurat’s paintings are full of texture and bright colors; most are of France and all its cultural beauties such as music, architecture, and landscapes of France. 

Georges Seurat’s pointillism technique stands out in his paintings; it is responsible for the unique texture of each artwork. He changed the direction of modern art by devising Neo-Impressionism and is one of the icons of the 19th-century art movement. Seurat also initiated the technique known as chromoluminarism, and he used conté crayon for drawings on paper with a rough surface.

Georges Seurat died at age 31 after falling ill. Thankfully, before his death, Seurat was a successful artist with a good reputation who enjoyed the fruits of his labor. Two years before his untimely death, Seurat painted a portrait of a beautiful woman named Madeleine Knobloch. It is believed that Madeleine was more than just a model to Seurat and there was a secret affair between them.

Young Woman Powdering Herself

This oil on canvas painting was completed between 1889–90, a year before Seurat’s death. The painting depicts the artist’s mistress Madeleine Knobloch powdering her nose in front of a small dresser. A mirror with a bamboo frame is on the wall right behind the woman. A table with a vase of flowers can be seen in the mirror. 

In 2014 using advanced image technology, it was revealed that Seurat had painted himself at his easel in the reflection of the mirror. Later, Georges Seurat painted a table and flowers to cover his portrait. This incredible portrait is the only known self-portrait of the renowned Seurat.

This George Seurat painting makes use of the famous pointillism technique. Pointillism is a masterful technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image. Instead of having a flat 2D appearance, the artwork has a rough texture which marks Seurat’s unique style.

The painter never married, although Madeleine Knobloch was considered his common-law wife. According to Britannica, Seurat and Knobloch lived together in Paris. However, the pair went through great efforts to hide their relationship.

This painting is undoubtedly Seurat’s most famous painting. Georges began the artwork in 1884 and completed it in 1885, but he reworked the landscape and finished the final piece in 1886.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte 1886 – Georges Seurat

In Paris, Sunday was the day to escape the city heat. And revel under the shade of the trees and the cool breezes that came off the river. People of all ages and classes can enjoy the peace the river offers. 

A few odd things can be seen, such as two soldiers walking along the riverbank, a woman knitting, and a man playing the trumpet. The border of the painting is in inverted color depicting the world around them as opposite from the way of life they lead. 

The woman holding an umbrella and a monkey on a leash in the foreground of the painting resembles Madeleine Knobloch. The rounded face and hourglass figure seem the same as in Young Woman Powdering Herself. Madeleine may model for Seurat before their affair begins.

Seated Woman with a Parasol

Conté crayons are a skillful drawing medium composed of compressed powdered graphite or charcoal, consistently mixed with a clay base. They are most commonly found in black, white, and sanguine tones and shades of gray. 

Not only did Georges Seurat paint, but he also made use of Conté crayons for his drawings. Much like pointillism, this medium creates a defining texture within the picture. 

In this drawing, we see a vague silhouette of a woman that appears to be the same as in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. She is wearing the same dress and standing with the same posture. This woman, therefore, bears the resemblance of Madeleine Knobloch.

The Morning Walk, Study for The Seine at Courbevoie:

In most Georges Seurat artworks, the subject is the same woman with the umbrella, such as in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. 

This painting depicts the woman on a morning walk along a riverbank. The figure is vague due to Seurat’s painting technique. However, each brushstroke can be seen, and the colors don’t fade into each other; instead, each spot stands out. 

Georges Seurat has a deep interest in the science of color. Most of his paintings were inspired by how tapestries were restored by combining two colors to create the impression of a third, intermediate shade.

The woman’s face is always turned away, so she can never be accurately identified. Perhaps his secret affair with Madeleine Knobloch is why she is the subject of most of his paintings. 

The Circus

The Circus – Georges Seurat

The painting was Seurat’s third major work with a circus theme. It shows a female performer standing on a horse at a famous French circus. The audience portrays the distinctions between social classes sitting in rows, from the well-dressed higher class near the front and the lower classes in the gallery at the back.

This painting remains unfinished as Seurat fell ill shortly after beginning. It was returned to Seurat’s mother after the exhibition in 1891, and she hung it in the room where he died.

George and Madeleine reportedly had two children together that died shortly after childbirth. Their first son, Pierre-Georges Seurat, was born a year before Georges Seurat fell ill and died. Sadly, Pierre died three weeks later after contracting the same unknown illness. Meanwhile, Knobloch had their second son, who died soon after birth. 

The Bottom Line

Georges and Madeleine fought hard to keep their relationship concealed from the public. Perhaps he wanted to keep her separate from his bourgeois family and his bohemian friends. However, the mystery of Madeleine makes Seurat’s art all the more captivating. 

Amit Kumar

Amit Kumar is a Digital Marketing Strategist in a leading organisation. A creative marketing strategist with over 8 years of experience developing digital marketing strategies and guiding business development