St Tropez Wharf
St Tropez Wharf

Hardly a 10-minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe, or Champs Elysées if you prefer, the Jacquemart André Museum is among the first to open its door to art enthusiasts. And the exhibition of more than 60 works by the largely ignored painter Paul Signac is an exciting discovery.

Born in 1863 and commonly referred to as a neo-Impressionist, Signac has been paid a proper tribute by referring to his genius as the inventor of the Pointillist technique, a definition he himself preferred to employ to outline his art.

Growing up and living in Asnières, just across the river Seine from Paris, Signac began painting while still a teenager. His enchantment with the rays of the sun, the moon and the stars reflected by the waves of water would remain a fascination and an inspiration for him for the rest of his life. Later, while still young, he moved to the southeastern coastal town of St Tropez, and would write to his mother: “I have found my happiness. I have all that I need to continue painting for the rest of my life and that is certainly what I’ll do!”

To put a stress on his unusual technique, organisers had the brilliant idea of showing Signac’s chefs d’oeuvres along with paintings by some well known neo-Impressionist painters such as Georges Seurat, Camille Pissaro, Maximilen Luce and many others. We incontestably learn that his strategy of painting brilliant visual extravaganzas such as Sunset & the River, Lices Fountain or St Tropez Wharf depended on creating thousands of tiny, colourful dots to capture the magic of the natural backgrounds that no other artist had done before him.

A Paris museum pays homage to Paul Signac, the largely ignored co-creator of Pointillism

Though human forms are normally absent from his works, Signac does not hesitate from masterfully bringing them in now and then, such as in the family scene Sunday Morning at Home that includes a pet animal, or the distant female figures in the Fontain des Lices.

But the reflections of natural light over water, on trees and along hills, would remain Signac’s obsession until the end of his life. Most of his paintings would show the sea, the rivers and the lakes that he would navigate across tirelessly, days and nights, most of the time rowing his own boat that he had named Olympia.

“Art is not about whipping up colours with a knife on your palette. It is about creating them in the imagination of the spectator!” he would famously say. One astounding example of his technique could be the Pope’s Chateau in Avignon in which, instead of concentrating on the architectural details of the palace, he would provoke an impactful kaleidoscopic explosion on the canvas with the help of his colour dots.

The Jacquemart André Museum had originally planned this exhibition from May 19 to July 26. But since all the French museums were closed practically the entire two months of May and June because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, it is likely that the show could be prolonged for at least another month. That would be good news for art enthusiasts!

‘Signac and Colour Harmonies’ is currently on exhibit at the Musee Jacquemart-André until July 26 and may be extended

The writer is an art critic based in Paris. He may be reached at zafmasud@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 18th, 2021

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