French Neo-Impressionist & Pointillist Painter – Paul Signac

Paul Victor Jules Signac or Paul Signac, one of the most admired French ‘Neo-Impressionist’ painter and the co-originator of ‘Pointillism’ or ‘Divisionism,’ was born into an affluent bourgeois family in Paris, on November 11, 1863. Paul was a revolutionary artist who was also fond of sea and sailing. His first boat was a canoe that he named Manet Zola Wagner. The name hinted at his youthful fervor for avant-garde & unconventional artistry, while simultaneously staying indecisive about his occupation.

At the age of eighteen, while pursuing a course in architecture, Paul Signac set eyes on Claude Monet’s paintings, exhibited at the offices of La Vie, in June 1880. This triggered his interest in painting. Paul never undertook a formal training in arts. Whatever knowledge he had was a result of the self-study of the works of Manet, Monet, Degas, and Caillebotte. By 1882, the artist produced his first series of vibrantly colored studies & human figures, with his companion Berthe Robles, as his model. Paul’s early works characterize an evident taste for frontals, geometric arrangements, and a predilection for colors.

Signac met Monet and Georges Seurat in 1884. Seurat’s methodical working & his theory of colors floored Paul, and he instantly becoming a devoted follower of Seurat. Under Seurat’s influence, Signac drifted away from the short brushstrokes of ‘Impressionism’ to experiment with ‘Pointillism,’ a technique where small dots of pure colors are skillfully put adjacently, with an intention to create a visual blend of colors in a viewer’s eyes more than on the canvass. “Two Milliners” (1885) was the artist’s first ‘Neo-Impressionist’ or ‘Pointillist’ piece of work. Seurat started his iconic huge painting, ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,’ in 1884, but Paul reworked on it in 1885, to incorporate the ‘Division’ technique, on Seurat’s recommendation.

Signac participated in the first Salon des Artistes Independants in 1884, and continued to contribute annually. He was the first non-Belgian associate of avant-garde Brussels Société des XX. The same year he met Armand Guillaumin and a year later met Camille Pissarro. The year 1885 was Signac’s signature year with his paintings exposited at a major exhibition, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, while also featuring in Alfred Robaut’s first catalogue. The artist even exhibited along with Seurat and Van Gogh in Paris in 1887, at the Le Théatre Libre.

In 1890, Paul’s journalist friend, Felix Fénéon, covered an article, ‘Les Hommes d’Aujourd’Hui,’ mentioning about the artist’s works. In 1899, Signac authored, “From Eugene Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism,” where he talks about the various art ideas, theories, methodologies, and movements he experienced and was a part of. Following Seurat’s death in 1891, Signac helped with listing and classifying his works. The artist perceived himself as the new leader of the ‘Neo-Impressionism.’ He organized ‘Neo-Impressionist’ group and memorial shows for Van Gogh and Seurat, in 1891 and 1892 respectively. He married Berther Robles on November 7, 1892.

By 1900, Signac stirred away from ‘Pointillism,’ as he never restricted himself to one medium. He experimented with oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, lithographs, and pen-and-ink sketches. Signac was the President of the annual Salon des Independants from 1908, until his death. He was an inspiration particularly to Henri Matisse, André Derian, and to many other amateur artists, as he encouraged them to exhibit the controversial works of the ‘Fauves’ and the ‘Cubists,’ thereby also leveraging the evolution of Fauvism. Paul started a live in relationship with Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange in September 1913. The couple was blessed with a daughter in October 1913.

Through his life, the artist created several watercolor paintings of European seascapes, landscapes, and French cities. Signac’s celebrated masterpieces are “The Bonaventure Pine in Saint Tropez,” (1893), “Port St. Tropez,” (1899), “View of the Port of Marseilles” (1905), and “The Blessing of the Tuna Fleet at Groix” (1923). Paul Signac died on August 15, 1935, in Paris, from septicemia. He was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.