Post #922 • December 18, 2006, 10:06 AM • 10 Comments
Signac would have made a wonderful straight-ahead Impressionist had he been born about two decades earlier; he revered Monet, and the catalogue for The Romance of Modernism at the MFA retells a curious story: "In April 1880, the sixteen-year-old Paul Signac attended the Impressionist exhibiition, where he began to make sketches of works by Degas - and was proptly shown the door by Paul Gaugin." It doesn't explain what prompted the discourtesy.
Signac befriended Seruat and adopted Divisionism, but he tired of it, and developed a version of his own better suited to human patience, based on little bricks of color instead of miniscule dots. It recalls both the electric atmosphere of Van Gogh and the cool control of Seurat, with a dash of Ravenna mosaic thrown in for texture.
Van Gogh appears in spirit in at least one portion of the painting.
So does Michelangelo. We're fortunate to have some correspondence about the painting between Signac and Félix Fénéon, a friend and critical champion of the Pointillists, in which he describes his work on a "portrait of a cloud" in which he envisioned "some Michelangelesque figures." With visual punning that one usually associates with Bonnard, he makes them appear.
The man knew his boats...
...so Antibes, to where he moved to flee the war in 1914, must have comforted him. But only to a point. The catalogue notes that the war "often left him unable to paint." Those boats on the horizon, spewing purplish smoke as they push in on the right, are German gunships.