SIGNAC Paul
To Seurat, who had a scientific turn of mind, fell the strictly analytic work, which covered form as well as colour. Signac employed the optical mixture exclusively, and in it he found a medium for new colour effects whose tones were never too "strong" for his liking.
( 1863-1935). Born and died in Paris. Signac loved life and was a man of passionate enthusiasms: for painting, science, literature, politics. Jovial and heavily built, he looked more like a Breton sailor than a painter. Vehement and impulsive in his talk, he delighted in probing problems to their depth; his every comment, in which words of kindness mingled with expressions unfit for print, revealed his intelligence, exuberance, conviction and combative nature, but even his most impetuous outbursts were never tinged by the slightest pettiness or malice. His position was not in easy one, for he was fired with a determination to face all the issues. Yet however violent his opposition might be, it always revealed a generous mind searching for truth, ready to admit different ways of arriving at truth and accepting the validity of research diametrically opposed to his own; but both in art and in life he was the implacable enemy of flattery and pretentiousness, self-seeking and hypocrisy. Signac was in his element when wrestling with problems, whether social or artistic, for they seemed to nourish his vigorous temperament eager for action.
His middle-class family put up no resistance to his early decision to take up painting. At the start he was influenced by Monet -- at that time not yet widely appreciated as an artist -- and in 1884, at the age of twenty-one, he became one of the founders of the Société des Artistes Indépendants with Georges Seurat and others, and exhibited for the first time in their Salon. Seurat and Signac became intimate friends and were soon to collaborate in formulating the theories of Neo-Impressionism, the most important and revolutionary art movement of the late nineteenth century. They quickly rallied to the cause a small circle of friends of varying degrees of talent, such as Camille Pissarro and his son Lucien, Henri-Edmond Cross, Maximilien Luce, Charles Angrand, Hippolyte Petitjean, Theo van Rysselberghe, Albert Dubois-Pillet and a few others. Signac was the driving force of the group, trying at all costs to attract adherents, untiringly professing his creed in discussions and by letter. After the premature death of Seurat in 1891 he undertook the difficult task of continuing the struggle for their ideals as leader of the group.
Signac had a passion for sailing, which led him to visit and paint nearly all the French ports. He sailed to Holland and Corsica, travelled to the Alps, Italy and Constantinople. For many years his base was Saint-Tropez, which he 'discovered' as he also 'discovered' Port-en-Bessin, Collioure, etc. From all these ports of call he brought back innumerable water colours, in which line and vibrant colour fuse spontaneously to seize the changing aspects of nature. Afterwards, in the studio, he used these quick sketches for the preparation and execution of large canvases, in which his aim was to balance the different elements of nature in order to achieve what he called 'the most harmonious, luminous and colourful result possible'. Félix Fénéon, a friend of Signac's from the start, described his paintings: 'His colourings spread out in spacious waves, tone down, meet, fuse, and form a polychromatic design similar to a linear arabesque. To express these harmonies and oppositions he uses only pure colours. Arranging these on his palette in the order of the spectrum, the painter mixes only contiguous colours, thus as far as possible obtaining the colours of the prism, adding white to graduate their tone scale. He juxtaposes these dabs of paint on the canvas, their interplay corresponding to local colour, light, and varying shadows. The eye will perceive them mixed optically.
The variation of colouring is assured by this juxtaposition of elements, its freshness by their purity and a brilliant lustre by the optical blending, because unlike a mixture of pigments, optical mixing tends to brightness.'
Of insatiable curiosity, Signac threw himself into the study of Chevreul's optical laws and often wrote on behalf of these theories. He wrote From Eugène Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism ( 1899), the vital textbook of the NeoImpressionist movement, a study on Jongkind, a lucid essay on The Subject in Painting ( Encyclopédie Française, vol. XVI, chap. 2), an introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition Seurat and his Friends ( Paris, 1934), as well as a Diary, of which the entries for the years 1894 to 1899 were later published in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts ( 19491953). As though these multiple activities were insufficient to occupy his ebullient temperament, Signac accepted the presidency of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1908 and for twenty-six years worked untiringly in the service of his friends, encouraging the younger generation (he was one of the first to buy a picture by Matisse) and advocating the principles of his conception of art. His vigorous personality, which always pushed him into the limelight, may have sometimes caused his contemporaries to overlook the fact that this active, dominating man was also a talented painter of great poetic sensibility.
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