Georges Seurat spent the last summer of his short life in the port town of Gravelines, just south of Dunkirk. For the four paintings that he made there, he chose a spot on the canalized River Aa, which connects the town with the sea. He painted this spot at different times of the day and always from a different viewpoint.
In this version, the largest section of the painting is taken up by the harbour basin with the boats used to fish for herring and cod. However, no activities or people are visible. The boat that sails into the harbour doesn’t even seem to have a skipper. The air is just as motionless as the sea. The light is even and diffuse.
At first glance, The canal of Gravelines seems like a depiction of a harbour at a coincidentally quiet moment of the day. But here, Seurat has reduced the visual reality to a tranquil, harmonious composition, made up of countless dots in an extremely fine pointillism.