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Paul Signac

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Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer




Paul Signac (France, 1863–1935)
Coast Scene
, 1893
Oil on canvas
18 ½ x 22 in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000


Critic Félix Fénéon coined the term Neo-Impressionism to describe the new stylistic tendencies in the work of Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Paul Signac. The artists exhibited their recent experiments at the first Salon des Indépendants in 1884, a non-juried exhibition founded by Seurat and Signac, and then later at the final Impressionist exhibition in 1886. The Neo-Impressionists had departed from the improvisational quality of Impressionism by separating color into individual touches of pigment, an approach called Divisionism. Relying on the optical theories of Eugène Chevreul and Ogden Rood, Seurat and Signac believed the viewer’s eye would blend the individual colors, an effect they referred to as mélange optique (optical mixing), while the separated passages of paint would seemingly shimmer, especially when applied in meticulous dots. Both Seurat and Signac preferred that approach, which came to be known as Pointillism, and the latter insisted that “the separated elements will be reconstituted into brilliantly colored lights.”

Signac’s style is apparent in the methodical application of dots and blanched palette of Coast Scene. The artist applied paint only when necessary to create the forms and colors of the scene, leaving a generous amount of unpainted canvas. Despite the economy with which Signac painted, the individual passages of color merge when viewed from a distance to create an animated yet tranquil scene of sailboats along the French Riviera. Signac relocated from Paris to Saint-Tropez in 1892 and sailed the Riviera frequently. The topography of the scene is almost certainly Saint-Tropez, which was already becoming a tourist destination by this time.

When Seurat died prematurely in 1891, Signac became the chief proponent of the movement and later published its theories in the 1899 book, From Eugène Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism. Signac believed Neo-Impressionism to be the logical extension of French painting in the nineteenth century and would continue to practice the style, even as the example of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin pushed painting in a less formulaic direction.