By the end of the First World War, Paul Signac (1863-1935) was painting more finished watercolours than he was oils. This change was encouraged by a successful exhibition of those watercolours in Paris in November 1921.
Signac’s Saint-Tropez, Boat being Careened from 1920 is an unusual view of a boat which has been deliberately grounded alongside the quay, to allow maintenance to be performed on its hull. As a longstanding yachtsman he had considerable insight into this procedure.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a sketch of this hilltop mediaeval town on the Côte d’Azur, close to the border with Italy, painted in about 1921.
Although I only have this monochrome image of Marseille, Bonne Mère from 1922, it demonstrates Signac’s persistence in painting this view, one of the most recurrent in his painting in the twentieth century. It also marks his return to the successful compositional approach he had mastered earlier in Venice and Istanbul. For comparison, below is his finished oil painting from 1905-06. It’s also possible the original sketch was painted using India ink wash, which he definitely used in paintings of La Rochelle in 1913, and the lighthouse at Groix in 1925.
Signac’s fascination for the ports of France wasn’t confined to those of the Midi, or the more picturesque. His view of Le Havre with Rain Clouds from 1922 shows this major port on the Channel coast, on the northern side of the estuary of the River Seine, in typical weather. Le Havre was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, and had to be rebuilt after 1945.
When Signac did paint away from the coast, he usually managed to find a river, as in this View of Montauban in the Rain from about 1922. This is a large town in the south-west of France, to the north of Toulouse, set astride the River Tarn, and was the birthplace of JAD Ingres.
The town of Rodez, painted by Signac in about 1923, isn’t far from Montauban in Occitania, but lacks a significant river.
He painted this view of boats at low tide alongside Saint-Tropez, the Pier on 21 December 1923. Even during Spring tides, the tidal range at Saint-Tropez is little more than 30 cm (1 foot), suggesting these boats have been deliberately beached alongside the pier.
During the early twenties, Signac painted a few works showing flowers, among them this Floral Still Life from about 1920-24. This compares with his Green Pot, below, painted in oils in 1920, and may have been influenced by Paul Cézanne’s late watercolour still lifes. Signac didn’t see any of those until 1908, and started painting his own at the end of the war.
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.