Paul Signac – One of the Founders of Neo-Impressionism

Paul Signac (November 11, 1863 – August 15, 1935) together with Seurat were the pioneers of neoimpressionism (pointillism). This was a new art movement that evolved from impressionism.

Both Seurat and Signac were inspired by a scientific optical theory, that color pigments do not need to be mixed together on the palette or directly on canvas. Instead, by placing tiny dots side by side, the mixing of the colors will naturally occur at a suitable distance, in the eye of the observer. This has been termed “The Optical Mixture”.

Paul Signac - Neoimpressionism (Pointillism) Painting
Paul Signac – Neoimpressionism (Pointillism) Painting [Public Domain]

Young Signac & the Impressionists

Paul Signac was born into a comfortable middle-class family in Paris in the late-19th century. Significantly, the family relocated early in his life to the Montmartre, which was then the thriving artistic epicenter of Europe.

In his youth, Signac was drawn to the work of the Impressionists, then still very revolutionary in the art world. His parents being very liberal minded, encouraged young Signac to attend the impressionist exhibitions.

When Signac’s father died, the family moved to a new Parisian neighbourhood called Asnières. However Signac moved back to Montmartre and rented a small room there. He forged connections with other artists, writers & musicians.

In one particular exhibition, Signac saw the paintings of Claude Monet. He both admired Monet’s Impressionist style and plein-air painting methods (painting outdoors and not in a studio). It was at this stage that Signac decided to become a painter.

Aside from receiving some fairly basic training in painting, Signac was mainly self-taught. In his early paintings, you can see the influence of the impressionists. He paints with bright colours and paints outdoors (plein-air painting).

Paul Signac - Snow, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris
Paul Signac – Snow, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris [Public Domain]

Neoimpressionism & Seurat

When Signac’s meets the painter Georges-Pierre Seurat, they become firm friends and both share a fascination with the color theory of Michel-Eugene Chevreul.

This theory states that by juxtaposing complementary colors one can produce the impression of another color. This scientific theory becomes the foundation for their paintings and for the neoimpressionism (pointillism) art movement.

Both Seurat and Signac become the founders of neoimpressionism and pointillism art movement. They both paint by applying small dabs (or dots) of intense color closely together on the canvas, using contrasting shades that appeared to merge and shimmer when viewed from a distance.

Neoimpressionism painting by Paul Signac
Neoimpressionism painting by Paul Signac

By December of 1885, Signac and Seurat and others solidify their unique neoimpressionism style. Together they are invited to display their paintings in the eigth and final impressionist exhibition together with Degas, Cassatt, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and others.

Signac and Van Gogh’s Friendship

Signac meets Vincent van Gogh in Paris in 1886. The two painters admire eachothers work and start painting together. Van Gogh admires the loose brushwork of Signac. So Signac pays a visit to Van Gogh in Arles in 1889 and teaches him how to paint neoimpressionism style.

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait -Neoimpressionism
Self Portrait by Van Gogh – Pointillism style

Although Van-Gogh does not adopt this style of painting, he does experiment a few times which is evident in a few self portraits that he paints.

Signac Marries & Moves to Southern France

In November of 1892, Signac marries his longtime companion, Berthe Roblès (a cousin of Camille Pissarro). A few years later, they leave Paris for Saint Tropez in the Côte d’Azur .

In Saint-Tropez, Signac builds a large painting studio. It is during this period that he paints some of his most colorful and famous neoimpressionism paintings. The subject matters often features boats, beaches and seascapes.

Painting of Antibes by Paul Signac - neoimpressionism
Antibes, Cote d’Azur – Paul Signac [Public Domain]

Later Years

As an older artist, Signac guides younger painters who are beginning their careers. He is a friend and mentor to Henri Matisse, who often visits him in Saint-Tropez.

Signac dies on August 15, 1935 at the age of 71. His grave is located in the famous Paris cemetery, Pere Lachaise. He left behind an enormous body of work that are now owned by major museums, galleries and private art collections all over the world.

Paul Signac Painting using the Pointillism technique
Paul Signac Neoimpressionism painting [Public Domain]

Museums in France

When in Paris, go the beautiful Musee D’Orsay. This stunning museum houses a lovely collection of Signac neoimpressionism paintings.

If you are traveling to the Cote d’Azur, pop into Saint Tropez, and visit the Musee de l’Annonciade. This small but outstanding art museum also showecases a nice collection of Paul Signac’s neoimpressionism paintings. For more information, press here.