Over the last three months, I’ve shown many of the oil paintings of Paul Signac (1863-1935), but have omitted his watercolours. During his early career, he seems to have used these primarily as preparatory sketches made in front of his motif, then recomposed and adjusted them to form the basis of his studio oil paintings. Given the painstakingly slow pointillist technique, it’s hardly surprising that he found this preferable to alternatives such as oil sketching.
In time, he was persuaded to exhibit these sketches, and by the twentieth century they came to form a substantial part of his art that was seen by the public. In this and the next couple of articles I show a small selection from these. Sadly, most of his watercolours from before 1918 are no longer accessible, but here are a few from that period that reveal Signac’s other art, completely different from his oil paintings.
Harbour (1894) is one of a great many views of the harbour of Saint-Tropez that he painted while he lived there, leading to finished oil paintings such as his Saint-Tropez. The Red Buoy (Cachin 284) in 1895.
The Harbour Entrance, Saint-Tropez from about 1902 isn’t, of course, painted in watercolour, but appears to be an oil sketch with some colour tiling in the water.
Saint-Tropez, Tartans in the Port from 1905 is another of the many watercolours Signac painted of these distinctive ‘tartan’ boats in the harbour of Saint-Tropez, with its prominent lighthouse in the background.
Rotterdam was painted during his visit to the busy port city in 1906, and was one of the watercolours which formed the basis for his finished painting of Steamboats, Rotterdam (below) later that year.
This view of Marseille, Port and La Bonne-Mère is dated 1907, which follows his most famous oil painting below, completed in early 1906.
Signac repeatedly painted some of his favourite views, which can sometimes appear to reverse their time sequence. For example, this view of Venice is dated 1908, but bears a close resemblance to his finished oil painting of the Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice (below), painted in oils three years earlier.
Saint Julien-Beauchene (1914) shows the almost unpopulated commune of Saint-Julien-en-Beauchêne in the French Alps, which he visited during his holiday with his partner Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange and their young daughter just at the outbreak of the First World War. He doesn’t appear to have used this in any subsequent oil painting.
This Landscape from 1915 appears to be a view of Antibes, where Signac lived with his family during the War. He has addressed this ‘to our friends in the USA, this image of our countryside in France’. Two years earlier some of his paintings had been included in the Armory Show.
He painted Antibes again in 1917, using mixed media.