In 1886, the former Impressionist artist Paul Signac (1863-1935) made the transition to Divisionism, using the fine dots distinctive of what’s widely known now as Pointillism(e). This change may well have been precipitated by his friend Camille Pissarro, who switched in January, and must have been greatly influenced by Georges Seurat, who moved into a new studio next door to Signac’s in June.
This painting of Gasometers at Clichy was one of the first of his excursions into this new territory. This is one of a quite large group of views that he painted of the immediate vicinity of his family’s house, several of which show similar industrial motifs. Although they might appear mundane today, at the time these gasometers were novel, and are thought to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel, who was just starting work on designing the Eiffel Tower, and was also responsible for the internal design of the Statue of Liberty.
In May, this was among four of Signac’s Divisionist paintings exhibited at the eighth and last Impressionist Exhibition, despite the strong opposition of Eugène Manet to the inclusion of Divisionist works there. It was also exhibited later at the second exhibition of the Indépendents, in Paris.
Signac stayed with the Pissarros in Éragny-sur-Epte that Spring, then in June left Paris for Les Andelys, twin towns on the Seine sixty miles downstream of the city and close to Rouen. He was joined there by Lucien Pissarro (Camille’s son, who later lived in England and was a member of the Camden Town Group).
He painted his view of Les Andelys. Château Gaillard, also known as The Château Gaillard, View from My Window, Petit-Andely early in the summer, in June or July. This shows the ruined castle which dominates the twin towns from a distance.
Les Andelys. Le Quai appears to be an oil sketch made in front of the motif for the finished painting below, made in more traditional style.
In this unusual view of Les Andelys. Côte d’aval, Signac shows the rolling hill of the previous sketch divided up like pieces of a puzzle or a patchwork quilt. Although described as synthetic, and with the addition of a barge in the foreground, this shows only minor adjustments to the proportions of his original sketch.
Les Andelys. La Berge shows the picturesque bend on the River Seine, where the ruins of the Château Gaillard overlook the riverside houses.
In October, Signac visited Fécamp, on the coast of Normandy, and following his return to Paris, he met with Charles Henry, to learn about his art theory including colour contrast.
Following his earlier painting of two milliners in Les Modistes (1885-86, shown in the previous article), Signac found inspiration in Caillebotte’s painting of Luncheon (1876) for another interior, this time showing the bourgeoisie at table. La salle à manger, variously known as Breakfast or The Dining Room (1886-87) is perhaps his first major Neo-Impressionist painting.
The man seen in profile with his cigar is Signac’s grandfather Jules, and the woman drinking coffee may be Signac’s mother, although she appears more anonymously as a type rather than a character. Critical reception was very encouraging, and this painting was exhibited in Brussels the following year at the Salon des XX.
In February 1887, Signac travelled to Brussels with Seurat, who was exhibiting his masterwork La Grande Jatte at the Salon des XX. While there, Signac met Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926). La salle à manger was among many of his paintings exhibited at the third exhibition of the Indépendents that Spring.
In April and May, Signac painted with Vincent van Gogh in and around Asnières, after they had met in Père Tanguy’s shop earlier in the year.
Quai de Clichy. Temps gris is one of a pair of views of the bank of the River Seine close to the Gasometers at Clichy above. This shows the bank in grey weather, and was thought to have been lost for many years; its partner shows a different view in sunlight.
Cachin F (2000) Signac. Catalogue raisoné de l’Oeuvre Peint, Gallimard. ISBN 2 07 011597 6.
Ferretti-Bocquillon M et al (2001) Signac 1863-1935, Yale UP. ISBN 0 300 08860 4.
Ferretti-Bocquillon M et al. (2013) Signac, les Couleurs de l’Eau, Gallimard. ISBN 978 2 07 014106 7.