Painted 1886; "Entrance to the Port of Honfleur"; Oil on canvas, 54 x 65 cm (21 1/4 x 25 5/8 in); Signed, bottom left; The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA.
After attracting both acclaim and scandal by exhibiting La Grande Jatte at the eighth and last impressionist exhibition, in May 1886, Seurat, the young newcomer to the Parisian avant-garde, left to work at a Channel port, as he did every summer during his brief career. That year he chose Honfleur, so often depicted by painters before and after him.
This busy port was also an elegant holiday resort. Seurat consistently chose to paint its somewhat desolate and deserted areas rather than its more picturesque sites. The scene is virtually uninhabited. Sailboats appear immobilized by an eternal calm, and the steamboat La Maria, coming from Folkestone at full steam in the center of the painting, seems as if it will never arrive. While the almost powdery technique of minute dots stills all movement, it also admirably transcribes the soft and lustrous northern light.
The seascapes painted by Seurat at Honfleur share a common peculiarity: in the foreground, a contrapuntal motif generally occurs-seemingly arbitrary, even ingenuous, in its compositional placement-at once realistic and foreign to the almost dreamlike setting. Here, a cruciform mooring post seems to threaten the entire scene. Elsewhere, it might be a sailboat's encroaching stem, anchors, or another, even more pivotal mooring post. The powerful, solitary presence of these signs further accentuates an impression of melancholy, transparency, and immateriality, qualities that compose that peculiar spell of seascapes by Seurat.