Paul Signac (French, 1863-1935)  

As the son of a wealthy saddler and harness maker, Paul Signac enjoyed lifelong financial security, but he was nevertheless a staunch Anarchist. By the age of nineteen, he had devoted himself to painting full time. Although he spent a few months at the studio of Emile Bin in 1883, Signac was essentially self-taught. For guidance, he looked to the works of the Impressionists, primarily Monet and Armand Guillaumin.  

After their meeting at the foundation of the Independants in 1884, Signac initiated Seurat into the Impressionist use of prismatic hues. Seurat in turn introduced Signac to scientific laws governing light and color, which led him to study the writings of Chevreul, Blanc, and Rood. Signac, however, still venerated Impressionism: not until 1886, after seeing divisionist canvasses by Camille Pissarro, Seurat’s first convert, was Signac convinced of the new style’s merit. He then helped to announce Neo-Impressionism at the eighth Impressionist exhibition that year.  

Signac’s energetic personality and privileged relations with the taciturn Seurat naturally established him as Neo-Impressionism’s public leader. He sponsored weekly gatherings at his Paris studio, attended by Symbolist intellectuals as well as by Seurat’s followers. A close friend of Theo van Rysselberghe and Henry van de Velde, Signac was closely associated with the growth of New-Impressionism in Belgium; he exhibited with Les Vingt in 1888 and again in 1890, the year he became a member. From 1888 to 1890, Signac collaborated with Charles Henry, developing chromatic charts and diagrams for the aesthetician’s publications.  

Signac was greatly affected by Seurat’s death in 1891 but shortly thereafter resumed his divisionist campaigns with enhanced vigor. In 1892 Signac discovered the village of Saint-Tropez, and made it his Mediterranean home. There Signac played host to his Neo-Impressionist colleagues and introduced a new generation of painters to Seurat’s theories. These included Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange, Lucie Cousturier, Henri Person, and most significantly, Henri Matisse, who visited throughout the summer of 1904. By this time, Signac had personalized his divisionist technique with large strokes and hot colors, which Matisse subsequently transformed into the Fauve style. As its vice-president and as its president, beginning in 1908, Signac not only insured the Independants’ Neo-Impressionist tone, but also provided early exposure for the Fauves and Cubists.  

Throughout his life, Signac propounded his artistic and political views in literary as well as visual media. He contributed articles to journals such as Art et Critique, La Revolte, and La Revue Blanche, and provided texts for numerous exhibition catalogues. Signac was the author of studies on Stendhal (1913) and the painter Jongkind (1927). Of greatest significance for the Neo-Impressionist movement was the publication in 1899 of Signac’s text on color theory and method, D’Eugène Delacroix au neo-impressionisme.  

Pertinent Literature:  

Forthcoming catalague raisonné being prepared on the artist by Françoise Cachin  

Lee, Ellen Wardwell, The Auro of Neo-Impressionism: The W.J. Holliday Collection, pp.66-71, catalogue for 1993 exhibition, Indianapolis, 1983  

Daix, P., "Signac à Saint-Tropez," Le Quotidian de Paris, July 16, 1992  

Tasset, J.M., "Signac a point," Le Figaro, July 21, 1992