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Paul Signac

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.

Paul Signac (French, 1863-1935): Antibes, the Pink Cloud, 1916, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, Scott M. Black Collection, photography © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Van Gogh appears in spirit in at least one portion of the painting.

Signac, detail

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.

Signac, detail

The man knew his boats...

Signac, detail 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.

Signac, detail




December 18, 2006, 11:52 AM

He also did hundreds of small watercolors which are wonderful, and because of their numbers, are relative bargains at the Impressionist & Modern auctions, in the $20k range. I don't think anyone has even done a show of them.



December 18, 2006, 12:15 PM

The painting shown above, which is mouth-wateringly gorgeous even in reproduction, would also seem to owe some debt to Japanese landscape prints. The coloring is exquisite, and the texture is luscious yet beautifully controlled.



December 18, 2006, 9:05 PM

here are a couple of examples:



December 18, 2006, 9:12 PM

The first two details you selected are perfect little abstractions by themselves.
Proof that a perfect painting is perfect even in the smallest detail.



December 18, 2006, 10:48 PM

His landscape and seascape work is brilliant!
I love when he uses a soft colour pallet such as in the painting that is posted.
But I find he is less accomplished at painting the figure they
are stiff, awkward and much to similar to Saurats style of figure painting.

I like his water-colours (fresh).
I was not familiar with them.
To bad they are in the $20K range
and not the $20 range.
I would love to own one two or three of them
I guess I will have to wait until I am rich and famous.



December 19, 2006, 12:13 AM

If you get rich enough, RL, buy me a couple.

I agree about the figures. In fact, the more detail as depiction necessary in a Signac picture the stiffer and uglier it is, and the colors go to hell also.

The "stiffness" in Seurat's paintings is sometimes similar but sometimes, especially in the sketches, becomes expressive by coming across almost ghostlike, like a frosted instant. He had a much lighter touch than Signac did, when he wanted to, anyway,.



December 19, 2006, 12:21 AM

I enjoy his brush work. "The color bricks" are more or less uniform in size (like dots are uniform in size, too) and horizontal. He starts to swirl in different directions in the area of clouds and gun smoke. It creates dynamism where the artist wanted. This is simple applicatiion of painter's tool and it works beautifully in this painting. What cought my eye immediately is some discrepancy, in my opinion, betweein the upper reflection of clouds in the water (it is a straight line) and position of the cloud in the sky. I may be wrong in my assumption but he had created green belt of water for better seperation between sail boat and war boats (peacefullness vs menace of war-contrast again).



December 19, 2006, 4:28 AM

just a thought but i got a brilliant reproduction of Antibes from a US/UK oil painting company. I know how some people feel about reproductions but I love this piece by signac and believe that posters just don't cut the mustard. Since receiving my Signac I have ordered several more pieces by different artists. Cool stuff:


George Shackelford

December 21, 2006, 2:19 PM

There was a great exhibition of Signac watercolors in 2000, organized by the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, which now owns the largest collection of them in the United States, the gift of James T. Dyke. The catalogue was published by Harry N. Abrams, NY. The cloud study that Signac expanded into "The Pink Cloud" is among them.



December 21, 2006, 2:37 PM

Found it. Also, if you go here and search on Signac, it returns a nice array of images. The main site is at Thanks for the information, and thanks for stopping by.

(Dr. Shackelford curated the Romance of Modernism show at the MFA and wrote the catalouge.)



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