Countdown To The Opening Of The Barnes Foundation: A Selected Highlight From The Collection – “Models” By Georges Seurat

Time to get meta: this famous work by Georges Seurat at the Barnes Foundation depicts a painting within a painting.
Image Credit: 'Models (Poseuses),' 1886–1888. Georges Seurat. Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 98 3/8 in. Courtesy The Barnes Foundation.

With the long-awaited grand opening of the new Philadelphia campus of the Barnes Foundation just around the corner — Saturday, May 19 is now less than three weeks away — we’re going to take this opportunity to spotlight a few select artworks from the unparalleled collection in the weeks leading up the Foundation’s grand opening.

First up is “Models” By Georges Seurat, shown above.

This is a large scale work by the famed French artist — the painting is more than six feet high and eight feet long. It is very impressive to view in person, especially at the Barnes where the galleries, when they open later this month, will all contain their original educational “ensembles” — wall compositions of artworks organized by Dr. Barnes according to the principles of light, line, color and space.

In this specific painting, Seurat depicts models in various states — disrobing, dressing, posing — in his studio after (or maybe before) they presumably modeled for him for another painting.

What’s very cool about “Models” is that it actually features a painting inside a painting; notice on the back left wall the presence of a partially visible painting. It’s actually the right side of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” one of Seurat’s most famous works. (You may remember it from a particularly great scene from one of our all-time favorite 80s movies…)

What is the meaning of the presence of the painting within a painting?

One theory about “Models” is that the models depicted in it are actually supposed to be the models that Seurat used to paint “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” In which the models that appear in the “Models” painting are depicting a scene of the models from the “Sunday Afternoon” painting returning to the artist’s studio after an afternoon of modeling and the items strewn around the room — hats, shoes, parasols, basket of flowers — are actually things the models were wearing or holding in the famous “Sunday Afternoon” painting.

Is that meta enough for you?

It’s really just one interpretation but it’s pretty cool and we like it.

The painting is definitely something that you’re going to want to check out first-hand once the Barnes Foundation opens later this month. And remember, the Barnes is opening with a 10-day series of special events from May 19-28, culminating with 60 hours of round-the-clock access over Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28. You can reserve tickets and/or become a member online.

In the meantime, you can catch up on our previous Barnes coverage here. And stay tuned for a lot more about the Barnes in the days and weeks to come.

The Barnes Foundation – Opening May 19, 2012
2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway


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