Paul Signac was a French neo-impressionist painter,
one of the originators of the technique known as pointillism or
divisionism. Upon Seurat's death, he succeded him as leader of
|Le Canal St Martin, 1833
Signac was born in Paris on November 11, 1863.
He originally planned to study architecture, but upon getting
to know the Impressionist school, he decided to become an artist,
his prosperous shopkeeping family giving him financial independence.
He painted in Paris with his friend Armand Guillaumin, an artist
on the fringe of Impressionism.
In 1884 he met Monet and Georges Seurat. He was
struck by the systematic working methods of Seurat, and his theory
of colors and became Seurat's faithful supporter. Under his influence
he abandoned the short brushstrokes of impressionism to experiment
with scientifically juxtaposed small dots of pure color, intended
to combine and blend not on the canvas but in the viewer's eye,
the defining feature of pointillism.
|Les Modistes 1885-86
E.G. Bührle Collection, Zürich
Signac was tireless in his attempts to convert
others to Seurat's methods. In 1885 Signac met Camille Pissarro,
whom he introduced to Seurat. Finding in Seurat's technique the
answer to his craving to a rational style, Pissarro adopted it
with enthusiasm. Against the wishes of the Impressionists, he
invited the Pointillist to participate in their eighth and last
group show in 1886. On this occasion Signac exhibited mostly scenes
of the Breton port of Saint-Briac and of the Paris suburbs. A
big canvas, Two Milliners, 1885, was the first example of the
application of the Divisionist technique (also called Neo-impressionist
and Pointillist) to an outdoor subject.
Many of Signac's paintings are of the French
coast. He left the capital each summer, to stay in the south of
France in the village of Collioure or at St. Tropez, where he
bought a house and invited his friends. In March, 1889, he visited
Vincent van Gogh at Arles. The next year he made a short trip
to Italy, seeing Genoa, Florence, and Naples.
|La Bouée Rouge, 1895
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Signac loved sailing and began to travel in 1892,
sailing a small boat to almost all the ports of France, to Holland,
and around the Mediterranean as far as Constantinople, basing
his boat at St. Tropez, which he "discovered." From his various
ports of call, Signac brought back vibrant, colorful watercolors,
sketched rapidly from nature. From these sketches, he painted
large studio canvases that are carefully worked out in small,
mosaic-like squares of color, quite different from the tiny, variegated
dots previously used by Seurat.
|Portrait de M. Félix Fénéon, 1890
His friends included the journalist Felix Fénéon
and the scientist and mathematician Charles Henry, both of whom
were interested in Neo-Impressionism and published their views
on color theory. In 1890 Fénéon devoted an issue
of "Les Hommes d'Aujourd'hui" to the work of Signac. In the same
year the artist painted a picture entitled Against the Enamel
of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angels, Tones and Colors,
and a Portrait of Felix Fénéon. The abstract patterning
of the background had some part in the development of Symbolism.
|The Dining Room, 1887
Signac contributed annually to the Salon des
Independants. He was the first non-Belgian member of the avant-garde
Brussels Société des XX, with which he showed for
some years. In Brussels in 1889, he supported Toulouse-Lautrec
in his quarrel with a minor Belgian painter who had insulted Vincent
van Gogh. With Seurat and van Gogh, Signac exhibited in Paris
in 1887 at Le Théatre Libre.
After Seurat's death in 1891, he helped to list
and classify his work. The leadership of the Neo-impressionist
movement, he felt, rested now with himself. In 1892 he took part
in a Neo-Impressionist group show. Among many exhibitions that
he helped to organize were memorial shows for van Gogh and Seurat,
in 1891 and 1892 respectively.
|Le Vieux Port, 1897 (etching)
Fine Art Museum, San Francisco
Signac himself experimented with various media.
As well as oil paintings and watercolors he made etchings, lithographs,
and many pen-and-ink sketches composed of small, laborious dots.
|Le Port, St. Tropez 1900
Watercolours form an important part of Signac's
oeuvre and he produced a large quantity during his numerous visits
to Collioure, Port-en-Bressin, La Rochelle, Marseille, Venice
and Istanbul. The fluid medium allowed for more freedom than is
found in his rather rigid oil paintings which are sometimes encumbered
by the demands of theory. Colour being an important aspect of
the artist's work, monochrome wash drawings such as Scène de marché
are more rare. His methods in general were more precise and scientific
than Seurat's, his paintings richer in color and more luminous.
The neo-impressionists influenced the next generation;
Signac inspired Henri Matisse and André Derian in particular,
thus playing a decisive role in the evolution of Fauvism. As president
of the annual Salon des Independants from 1908 until his death,
Signac encouraged younger artists (he was the first to buy a painting
by Matisse) by exhibiting the controversial works of the Fauves
and the Cubists.
|Blessing of the Tuna Fleet at Groix
1923, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
After 1900 Signac moved away from pointillism,
opting instead for small squares of color to create a mosaiclike
effect, as in View of the Port of Marseilles (1905,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) or The blessing
of the tuna fleet at Groix (1923, Minneapolis Institute
of Arts). When he died in Paris in 1935, however, the style to
which he dedicated himself had long ceased to be revolutionary.
Signac was untiring in his research and in his
desire to expound his theories, and was extremely important as
a writer on art. His book, From Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism
(1899),a summary of the ideas and theories of the movement, is
a standard text on the subject. He wrote an excellent study of
Jongkind, a fine article on "The Subject in Painting" for a French
encyclopedia, and other important articles and catalogue introductions.
* Portrait of Paul Signac done by Edouard Manet