Who was Paul Signac?
Paul Signac was a French Neo-Impressionist painter, who along with Georges Seurat played a major role in the development of the Pointillist style. A versatile artist, he left behind several oils, watercolors, etchings, lithographs, and pen-and-ink pointillism, the most popular of which were ‘The Dining Room’, ‘Women at the Well’, ‘The Wreckers’, and ‘The Port of Rotterdam’. Born into a family of successful traders, he had a comfortable childhood during which he developed an interest in drawing and painting. He wanted to pursue art as a career but chose to study architecture instead at his family’s insistence. He continued painting during his leisure time as a college student. However, after attending an exhibition of Monet's work, Signac realized that it was his calling to become an artist and dropped out of college. He took lessons with artist Emile Bin and embarked on a career as a painter. His meeting with artist Georges Seurat proved to be a major turning point in the life of the young man. The two artists began working together and developed a method that came to be called Divisionism or Pointillism. Continuing their artistic collaboration, Signac and Seurat teamed up with other artists like Albert Dubois-Pillet and Odilon Redon to found the Société des Artistes Indépendants.
Childhood & Early Life
Paul Signac was born in Paris on 11 November 1863 to Jules Jean-Baptiste Signac, a harness and saddle maker, and his wife Héloïse Anaïs-Eugénie (Deudon) Signac.
He developed an interest in painting as a young boy and wanted to pursue arts as a career. However, his parents wanted him to study architecture and he reluctantly gave in to their wishes.
His interest in painting continued and he visited exhibitions held by famous artists which further inspired him. After seeing an exhibition of Claude Monet's work he realized that his life’s calling was to become a painter and thus dropped out of college in spite of his family’s protests.
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After leaving college he began taking lessons with artist Emile Bin and started painting in earnest. His first painting was dated 1881. During his early years as a painter, he focused on painting landscapes of the Paris Suburbs, colorful paintings painted outdoors. His early works reflected the influence of Monet, Sisley and other Impressionist artists.
As a young man he also became fascinated with sailing and sailed around the coasts of Europe, painting the landscapes he encountered. He would also make many paintings of French harbor cities in later years.
The year 1884 was a very significant one for him. He became acquainted with prominent artists Claude Monet and Georges Seurat, and went on to form a long term collaboration and friendship with the latter. During the 1880s he also became friends with Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh.
Paul Signac and Georges Seurat, along with the likes of Albert Dubois-Pillet and Odilon Redon founded the Société des Artistes Indépendants (Society of Independent Artists), Salon des Indépendants in 1884. Signac displayed his work in the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, alongside works by Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro and Seurat.
He wholeheartedly supported Seurat and greatly admired his works. Under Seurat’s guidance Signac greatly developed his own style of art and abandoned the short brushstrokes of Impressionism to experiment with scientifically juxtaposed small dots of pure color.
The collaboration between Signac and Seurat led to the development of the style of Pointillism. The technique, which branched from Impressionism, was developed in 1886 and focused on the specific style of brushwork used to apply the paint in small dots of pure color. The style of Pointillism is in sharp contrast to the traditional methods of blending pigments on a palette.
The technique of Divisionism too used a style similar to Pointillism to form images, though with larger cube-like brushstrokes. Signac's most significant paintings in the Divisionist style include ‘The Dining Room’ (1886-87) and his portrait of Félix Fénéon (1890).
His career continued to flourish during the 1890s. With the opening of the Neo-Impressionist Boutique in 1893, he got the opportunity to exhibit several of his watercolors. He travelled widely and exhibited in Paris, Brussels, Provence, Berlin, Hamburg, the Hague, Venice, and elsewhere during the late 1890s and early years of the 20th century.
He also focused much on writing from the 1890s onwards and published ‘D'Eugéne Delacroix au néo-impressionnisme’, excerpts of which had already appeared in French and German journals.
He was committed to radical politics and had joined the anarchist movement like many artists of his generation. His black-and-white lithograph titled ‘The Wreckers’ is believed to allude to his desire of destroying the older ways of life in order to establish better societal conditions.
During the later part of his career his output declined considerably though he continued to be a much respected senior artist. He mentored several younger painters including Henri Matisse. He also became an art collector and acquired a collection of around 250 works.
Paul Signac, along with his lifelong friend Georges Seurat was among the founders of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. The association was formed with the aim of allowing the artists to present their works to public judgment with complete freedom without the interference of admission jury. The annual exhibitions of the society set the trends in art of the early 20th century.
Personal Life & Legacy
Paul Signac married Berthe Roblès on 7 November 1892. The couple separated later on, but never divorced and remained friends.
He entered into a relationship with Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange who gave birth to their daughter Ginette in 1913. Years later, he adopted his previously illegitimate daughter in 1927.
He died from septicemia on 15 August 1935 at the age of 71.