Paintings of Paul Signac 3: To the water

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Cassis. Cap Lombard (Op 196) (1889 Apr-Jun), oil on canvas, 83.5 x 99.8 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands. Wikimedia Commons.

After the third Salon des Indépendants in Paris in May 1887, Paul Signac (1863-1935) had intended going to Antwerp, but instead travelled to the centre of southern France to the Auvergne, where he stayed in Comblat-le-Château, a village roughly midway between Toulouse and Lyon.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Comblat-le-Château. Le Château (Comblat Castle) (Op 160) (1887 Jun-Jul), oil on canvas, 68 x 92 cm, Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain de Liège, Liège, Belgium. Image by Ophelia2, via Wikimedia Commons.

This view of the Château Comblat demonstrates Signac’s meticulous perspective projection and conventional composition at this time.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Comblat-le-Château. Le Pré (Comblat-le-Château, the Meadow) (Op 161) (1886 Jun-Jul), oil on canvas, 63 x 77 cm, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX. Wikimedia Commons.

Comblat-le-Château, the Meadow is a less formal view of one of the farmhouses on the edge of the village.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Comblat-le-Château. La Vallée (Op 163) (1887 Jul), oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Comblat-le-Château. La Vallée shows the same Château from a different point of view. Although his dots of paint appear slightly larger and coarser here, this is the smallest of these three paintings. The colours and lighting are typical of Camille Pissarro at this time.

In the heat of July, Signac went even further south, to the picturesque port of Collioure on the Mediterranean coast, close to the border with Spain, where he remained until October.

At the end of January 1888, Signac went to Brussels, where he was exhibiting for the first time at the Salon des XX, which Georges Seurat didn’t attend that year. In the Spring, Signac exhibited ten of his landscapes from the previous year at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, then spent the summer in Brittany with friends.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Avant du Tub (Op 176) (1888), oil on canvas, 45 x 65 cm, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

By this time, Signac had graduated from his early canoes (périssoires) and bought himself a boat, which he named the Tub. Bow of the Tub shows the bows, with a view of the River Seine beyond. This marks his changing interest, from painting industrial sites on the banks of the river, to scenes of leisuretime boating. Sadly, this Tub wasn’t to last long: two years later it sank at Herblay.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Place Clichy (Op 193) (1888), oil on panel, 27.3 x 35.6 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Signac made oil sketches using both pointillist and conventional techniques. Place Clichy is an example of the former, in which he explores forms and colours using larger spots of paint. This most closely equates to the oil sketches made at the time by Seurat on the wooden lids from cigar boxes, which he termed croquetons, although this was painted on a slightly larger wooden panel, perhaps intended for a pochade.

In March 1889, Signac travelled to Cassis, to the east of Marseille on the Mediterranean coast of France, where he stayed until June. On his way there, he visited Vincent van Gogh in hospital at Arles, and viewed some of his paintings.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Cassis. Cap Lombard (Op 196) (1889 Apr-Jun), oil on canvas, 83.5 x 99.8 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands. Wikimedia Commons.

When he was on the coast, Signac painted five substantial canvases, including this view of Cassis. Cap Lombard. All show coastal scenes, and when he exhibited them together with seven paintings of Portrieux at the Salon des XX the following year they had the overall title of The Sea. He has moved from the straight projection lines of Comblat-le-Château to the sweeping arc of this bay, with its jumbled triangular rocks, which dissolve in their own reflections.

In August-September 1889, Signac stayed with Maximilien Luce (1858-1941) in Herblay (Herblay-sur-Seine), to the north-west of Paris, where he again took to the water.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Sunset, Herblay (Op 206) (1889 Sep), oil on canvas, 58.1 x 90.2 cm, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunset, Herblay shows one of the wooded islands in the River Seine which were praised by the writer Georges Lecomte. This was exhibited at the Salon des XX in 1891, together with the painting below, under the overall title of The River. They were also used as the basis for a pair of painted fans, which Signac gave to the wife of Théo van Rysselberghe and the artist’s mother, Héloise Signac.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Herblay. Brouillard (Banks of River Seine at Herblay) (Op 208) (1889 Sep), oil on canvas, 33.2 x 55.1 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image by Sailko, via Wikimedia Commons.

Herblay. Fog looks from the River Seine in the opposite direction, towards the village, population about two thousand. Although barely visible, there’s a small steamboat in the distance. Slightly coarser dots of paint, with extensive use of white, add grain to the mist and subtlety to its reflections and colours.

In September 1889, Signac exhibited at the fifth Salon des Indépendants in Paris. This unfortunately marked the departure of Camille Pissarro from the Neo-Impressionists, and his return to mainstream Impressionism.


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Ferretti-Bocquillon M et al. (2013) Signac, les Couleurs de l’Eau, Gallimard. ISBN 978 2 07 014106 7.