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Paul Signac: 1863 - 1935

Paul Signac was born in Paris in 1863 and became an early admirer of Monet. He painted in Paris with his friend Armand Guillaumin, an artist on the fringe of Impressionism. In 1884 he met Monet himself and Georges Seurat.



As a result of discussions with Seurat, Signac was suddenly drawn away from Impressionism by the pursuit of the Divisionist style of painting, which consisted in the use of small dots of color, intended to combine and blend not on the canvas but in the viewer's eye. An early example, Seurat's Une Baignade, was exhibited in the summer of 1844 at the Paris Salon des Independants, of which he and Seurat were founding members. Signac was tireless in his attempts to convert others to Seurat's methods. In 1886, for instance, he noticed some Divisionist paintings by Emile Bernard and went to visit him, hoping to enlist another disciple for Seurat. But he succeeded only in alienating Bernard, who became a violent opponent both of Signac and of divisionism.


In 1885 Signac met Camille Pissarro, whom he introduced to Seurat. Pissarro had reached a critical point in his artistic development. Finding in Seurat's technique the answer to his craving to a rational style, he 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.

His friends included the journalist Felix Feneon and the scientist and mathematician Charles Henry, both of whom were interested in Neo-Impressionism and published their views on color theory. In 1890 Feneon 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 Feneon. The abstract patterning of the background had some part in the development of Symbolism.

Signac contributed annually to the Salon des Independants. He was the first non-Belgian member of the avant-garde Brussels Societe 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 the Theatre 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. In 1899 Signac published a book under the title "From Eugene Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism," a summery of the ideas and theories of the movement.

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. His methods in general were more precise and scientific than Seurat's, his paintings richer in color and more luminous. He influenced Henri Matisse and Andre Derian, thus playing a decisive role in the evolution of Fauvism. when he died in Paris in 1935, however, the style to which he dedicated himself had long ceased to be revolutionary.

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