Georges SEURAT (1859-1891) and Paul SIGNAC (1863-1935)
See also : Top 10 Painting The Woman Nude France
Chronology : 19th century 1880-1889 1885 1888 1892 1896 1907
He wants his demonstrations to be perfect. His achieved paintings are very rare. The very long preparation phases include drawings and oil sketches. In 1884 he exhibits at the Salon des Indépendants his first major work, Une Baignade à Asnières, oil on canvas 2 x 3 m.
Une Baignade à Asnières by SEURAT
1883-1884 Study for a Bather
2015 SOLD for £ 7.8M by Sotheby's
As Constable, Seurat built his composition in successive stages, with many preparatory drawings and paintings. He was the most innovative draughtsman of his time, mixing the subject and the background by blurring the edges. Like the Impressionists, he removes the line while strictly maintaining shapes, proportions and perspectives.
On February 3, 2015, Sotheby's sold at lot 13 for £ 7.8M from a lower estimate of £ 5M a drawing for the nude of a young boy which is one of the earliest studies for La Baignade. This drawing in conté pencil on paper, 32 x 24 cm, may have been executed as early as 1883.
The boy is viewed in profile with a detailed anatomy. His attitude of cry for echo was kept unchanged in the full size version where he is the bather in the foreground with shorts. The drawing offered a chiaroscuro effect that has not been used in the painting.
1885 La Rade de Grandcamp by Seurat
2018 SOLD for $ 34M by Christie's
Everything is important but everything is mingled. An image with rising lines and warm colors will look optimistic. The Grande Jatte will have to be chilling, with an invading shadow in the foreground and stiff figures symbolizing the aberrations of the bourgeoisie.
The young artist is receptive to ideas about the balance of colors. Chevreul's psychophysiological observations that the vision of a pure color is accompanied by the perception of a halo of its complementary color convince him that the composition of the colors of a painting must not slavishly follow the nature.
Seurat spends the summer 1885 at the seaside, in Grandcamp, on the advice of Signac who also invites him to take an interest in intense lights. Seurat then tests with marine views his interpretation of Chevreul's theories, developing his new technique of dividing colors by horizontal brush strokes that will soon become dots. He names that practice the chromo-luminarisme.
On May 8, 2018, Christie's sold as lot 18 for $ 34M La Rade de Grandcamp, oil on canvas 65 x 81 cm on the rather happy theme of a regatta of horizontally aligned white sails.
The achievement of the Grandcamp series pleases him. Back in his studio, he retouches the Grande Jatte by reducing chromatic variations and by introducing the pointillism. When this work is completed in 1886, it triggers the inevitable break with the Impressionnistes. Only Fénéon is convinced. In 1887 Fénéon coins the neo-Impressionist wording to try showing that Seurat's art is not an opposition to Impressionism but another step on the path to a new art.
Passionate about his theories, Seurat retouched his artworks. Rade de Grandcamp is perhaps the only example left in its original state from his very first experiences in complementary color techniques.
La Grande Jatte by SEURAT
1999 SOLD for $ 35M by Sotheby's
Three oil sketches on canvas are started in parallel in May 1884. One of them is a Paysage empty of any character, 65 x 79 cm, on which he sets up the theoretical elements of its composition. The second is a full version 70 x 104 cm, scaled as one third of the size of the final work. The other sketch is a study for the couple in the foreground.
Unlike the Bathing in Asnières, the colors are dull, with too much space provided to the shadows in the foreground. Signac will succeed in convincing Seurat that the brightest lights bring a much better effect to the divisionist technique, but for Un dimanche après-midi à l'île de la Grande Jatte, which will be finished in 1886, it is already too late.
The preparatory Paysage was sold for $ 35M by Sotheby's on May 10, 1999.
1886 Un Dimanche après-midi à l'île de la Grande Jatte by Seurat
Art Institute of Chicago
1888 Les Poseuses by Seurat
2022 SOLD for $ 150M by Christie's
His first masterpiece is Une baignade à Asnières, oil on canvas 200 x 300 cm, exhibited in 1884 at the first Salon des Indépendants. The 24 year old artist revealed his indirect approach of color inspired by the theories of vision forwarded by Chevreul. The colors of Une baignade reach a softness by other methods than the impressionniste brushstroke or the pastel. The new art is named post-impressionnisme by Fénéon in 1886.
The second masterpiece, Un dimanche d'été à l'île de la Grande Jatte, of similar size, is exhibited in 1886 at the eight and final Exposition des Impressionnistes where it generates a discord between the historical impressionists supported by Degas and the post impressionists supported by Pissarro. Impressionnisme as a group was dead.
La Grande Jatte reuses the pointillism but in dull colors. Seurat had preferred composing a complex anti-bourgeois narration including humor and symbols. The work was too advanced when Seurat influenced by Signac appreciated that its cold colors were a mistake.
Galvanized by this legitimate misunderstanding of the public, Seurat started a new project in bright pointillist colors, Les Poseuses. This time the anti-bourgeois mood is replaced by subtle references to art history including himself.
The scene is staged in Seurat's studio. The left wall is covered by a truncated and slightly modified version of La Grande Jatte. The three drawings hanging on the back wall are a reference to Seurat's painstaking creative process.
Les poseuses are three positions of a model in full nudity, reminding the Three Graces. The standing figure in the center is a Venus pudica. The two side figures are seated, one from the back like Ingres's Grande baigneuse while the other in profile removes a stocking in the attitude of the Spinario.
The 200 x 250 cm canvas was exhibited in spring 1888 at the Salon des Indépendants. This painting also broke a taboo by revealing that women in painting were indeed staged by professional models.
Les Poseuses, Ensemble (petite version) was painted in 1888, arguably as a replica. Its small size, 39 x 50 cm, enabled larger dots for a vibrant color rendering. Being beside Cézanne's Montagne Sainte-Victoire a cornerstone of the Paul G. Allen collection, this oil on canvas was sold for $ 150M by Christie's on November 9, 2022, lot 8. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, had been appealed by pointillism as a precursor to digital imagery.
1888 Portrieux by Signac
2018 SOLD for $ 13.8M by Christie's
Seurat finishes his Dimanche après-midi à l'Ile de la Grande Jatte in 1886. For the first time he had applied in large size his understanding of Chevreul's theories on the persistence of colors. The preparation was long and tedious and the dull result is mostly suitable for the hermetic social message of the artist.
During summers Signac and Seurat work in different villages without meeting each other. These sessions are however carefully prepared and when they come back in their workshops the comparison of their results confirms the consistency of their practices.
Signac pushes Seurat to an observation of bright lights. He paves that way, in 1886 in the Seine valley, in 1887 at Collioure and in 1888 in Brittany at Portrieux. During these three summers Signac improves his pointillism. At the same time his landscape becomes minimalist to better exploit the confrontation of colors.
On May 8, 2018, Christie's sold for $ 13.8M as lot 21 a view in Portrieux. This oil on canvas 60 x 92 cm may be considered as the culmination of the 1888 summer season by Signac, with a composition dominated throughout its lower part by the almost monochrome yellow expanse of the sandy beach, contrasting with the pointillist blue of the sea.
Signac will find in 1892 a brighter sun in Saint-Tropez. The view of the houses with their reflections in the sea, 47 x 55 cm, was sold for $ 10.7M by Sotheby's on May 9, 2016.
Pointillism was not highly spectacular except in an extreme yellow or orange. Signac and van Rysselberghe are perhaps the only ones to have understood and briefly applied such observation.
1891 Concarneau by Signac
2022 SOLD for $ 39M by Christie's
While Seurat had selected a resort in Normandy, Signac, a great lover of yachting, prefers Brittany. A 60 x 92 cm view of the sunny seaside at Portrieux painted in 1888 by Signac was sold for $ 13.8M by Christie's on May 6, 2018.
In March 1891 Seurat suddenly dies at 31 years old. Signac, very shocked, tries unsuccessfully to promote the art of his late friend. He leaves Paris in summer to change his mind with his new boat, the Olympia.
Signac painted in Concarneau a series of five oil on canvas in pointillist style collectively titled La Mer : Les Barques. Each of them was subtitled with the name of a musical movement as a direct reference to harmony : scherzo, larghetto, allegro maestoso, adagio, presto finale. The gently rippling water reminds the lines of a music sheet.
The famous city walls appear in the scherzo. The neat composition had been influenced by a recent exhibition of Japanese prints including seascapes by Hiroshige.
The Larghetto features the calm in the morning. It was sold for $ 39M from a lower estimate of $ 28M by Christie's on November 9, 2022, lot 6. The gently rippling sea is animated from foreground to horizon by the yellow, orange and white sails of the sardine boats, a speciality of that fishing village. Seagulls fly in the clear sky.
1892 Saint-Tropez by SIGNAC
The compositions by Signac have the same geometric rigors as those by his friend, with a total respect for the perspective. Unlike the Impressionnistes, they do not tolerate a freedom of the brush. Signac works painstakingly in his studio from his watercolor sketches.
He follows the psychophysiological ideas of Charles Henry which are an application to art of the theory of the color spectrum by Chevreul. The landscape is reconstructed by particles of pure color juxtaposed without overlapping. The action of the retina reconstructs the scenery in its full brightness.
Paul Signac is independent in his art and in his life. Tempted by the anarchist theories, he enjoys sailing off the coasts of France aboard his small boat, the Olympia. He also helps the creativity of his fellow artists and is one of the most active organizers of the Salon des Indépendants, an exhibition of the avant-gardes that is held every year in Paris.
In 1892, the Olympia brings its sailor to Saint-Tropez which is only accessible by sea at that time. The sun of the Mediterranean Midi dazzles him as it had amazed Van Gogh. Signac buys a house where he invites his many friends. Thus was born the intense artistic life of the village, waiting to be taken over from 1956 by the movie stars.
1892 Le Port au Soleil Couchant
2019 SOLD for £ 19.5M by Christie's
In 1891 Seurat suddenly dies at 31 years old. Signac, very shocked, tries unsuccessfully to promote the art of his friend. In the same year Cross settles in Le Lavandou for therapeutic reasons. He advises Signac to come back to vigor under the sun of the South.
A great lover of yachting, Paul Signac leaves Brittany in the following year and sails to the Mediterranean Sea through the Canal du Midi. He is dazzled by Saint-Tropez, a small fishing village that is at that time only accessible by boat. He settles therein permanently. The beauty of this place isolated from the rest of the world satisfies his quest for an anarchist paradise on earth.
Signac immediately applies his artistic theories to the shiny sun of Saint-Tropez. On February 27, 2019, Christie's sold for £ 19.5M as lot 26 an oil on canvas 65 x 81 cm painted in 1892, identified in his ledger as Opus 236 with the title "Le Port au soleil couchant". The splendid colors are enhanced in naive style outlines in the taste of Seurat.
1892 Maisons du Port
2016 SOLD for $ 10.7M by Sotheby's
The picture taken in full midday under hot sunshine is one of the best demonstrators of the expressive possibilities of the pointillisme.
That Opus 237 is titled Maisons du Port, Saint-Tropez. By comparison with the larger opus 236, the artist applies here a less poetic drawing where the too visible dots blur the desire for a topographic realism.
1896 Une Calanque
2023 SOLD for £ 8M by Christie's
Saint-Tropez is decidedly Signac's paradise on earth. In 1896 he considers the soft hues of dawn on the calanque des Caroubiers in the vicinity of the village. Using a strict pointillist technique as it had been developed by Seurat and himself, he renders the quiet atmosphere and the reflection of the pines in water by a soft impression of very light blue, lilac and orange, and the deep violet shadows.
This oil on canvas 65 x 81 cm was sold for £ 8M from a lower estimate of £ 5.5M by Christie's on June 28, 2023, lot 32.
#AuctionUpdate Paul #Signac's 'Calanque des Canoubiers (Pointe de Bamer), Saint-Tropez' achieved £8,015,000. Bathed in the day's first glow the painting expertly captures the serenity of a Mediterranean morning: https://t.co/xqcfNpAOVT pic.twitter.com/9GWG87lQmr— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) June 28, 2023
1907 The Golden Horn by Signac
2019 SOLD for $ 16.2M by Sotheby's
His colors became warmer. The post-Impressionist dots of Signac are precursors of the flat colors of Fauvism.
Passionate about sailing, Paul Signac immerses himself in the atmosphere of the ports. In the spring of 1907, for visiting Constantinople, he made an exception to his practice by traveling by train. He probably feared for the safety of a private boat in this military port.
He spent six weeks sketching in the atmosphere of the Golden Horn at different times of the day,. with its minarets that go up to the sky. Back in France, he expresses his delight in a series of oil paintings. In the foreground, sea and boats symbolize the activity of the city.
He takes a canvas in standard '50', 89 x 116 cm, which is the largest size compatible with the painstaking of his pointillist technique. After a month of effort, surprised by the unusual difficulty of this work, he scraps a first painting and starts again from scratch.
The second version is satisfactory. Signac retrieves the joy of expressing a great sun, as in Saint-Tropez fifteen years earlier, but this time he replaces the blinding yellow by a subtle palette of pinks and purples. Even better : he renounces for this view to a strict division between the color dots, accepting a blending inspired by Turner's art.
This painting is by far the most achieved of the nine or ten oils on canvas of Constantinople painted by Signac in 1907. In 1937, two years after his death, it was bought at auction by his daughter and her husband. It was sold for £ 8.8M by Christie's on February 7, 2012 and for $ 16.2M by Sotheby's on November 12, 2019, lot 21.
On February 4, 2020, Sotheby's sold at lot 12 for £ 7.6M a view of the Golden Horn by Signac, recently returned by the French government to the heirs of a collector despoiled in 1940. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. A model example by its confrontation of the pink and purple morning mist with the bright colors of boats and lodges, this oil on canvas 73 x 92 cm had been selected by the artist in 1908 to be exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants.
From the same series, an oil on canvas 73 x 93 cm was sold for £ 6.2M by Christie's on June 20, 2012. An oil on canvas 81 x 66 cm with a different composition, centered on a tall ship, was sold for $ 4.7M by Sotheby's on November 7, 2007. An oil on canvas 73 x 92 cm painted in 1909 was sold for £ 4.8M by Christie's on June 18, 2007.