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Paul Signac

French Painter

Paul Signac Photo

Born: November 11, 1863 - Paris, France

Died: August 15, 1935 - Paris, France

"The art of the colorist has in some ways elements of mathematics and music."

Paul Signac Signature

Summary of Paul Signac

Signac, who was both intelligent and well-read, was influenced heavily by modern theories on optics and color as well as by the work of the Impressionists, who were on the cutting edge of artistic innovation when he was a teenager and young man in the Parisian bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre. Signac's style changed substantially as he incorporated the techniques and theories of Neo-Impressionism (also known as "Divisionism" and "Pointillism") that he developed in collaboration with Georges Seurat. The rapid, varied brushstrokes of his Impressionist style, intended to convey the effects of light on objects, were transformed into the small, roughly square points of Neo-Impressionism. Signac, Seurat, and their fellow Neo-Impressionists began a process in Modernism of breaking down the basic components of a painting, in a way, separating color from the objects it described - an important step toward the further abstraction by later artists.

Key Ideas

While he is best known for his paintings and well-developed preparatory sketches, Signac was also an innovator in his extensive experimentation with a variety of media, from printmaking techniques like lithography and etching to watercolor and pen-and-ink, including painstaking sketches for paintings produced in tiny dots. Regardless of the medium, he persistently created forms without relying on line, which imposed a consistent level of abstraction on all of his work.
Signac's professed admiration for Naturalism, particularly in literature as evidenced by his virtual idolizing of Émile Zola, is in some ways reflected in his art. In particular, his emphasis on the mechanics of optics and the study of color theory situates him in a generation of artists who found paths for innovation by creating a kind of scientific approach to aesthetics.
Known as "melange optique" ("optical mixture"), the method used by Signac, Seurat, and other Neo-Impressionists involved placing dots of pure color separately on the canvas and allowing the eye to mix the paint, which happened when the viewer stepped back at least a couple of feet from the painting. As the white or off-white of the canvas was not typically concealed, it was usually an integral part of the process, creating a kind of shimmering effect. With Neo-Impressionism, wrote Signac, "...the separated elements will be reconstituted into brilliantly colored lights."
Paul Signac Photo

Paul Signac was born into a comfortably middle-class family in Paris in the late-19th century during the critical last few decades when Modernism was developing. Significantly, the family relocated early in his life to the Montmartre area of the city, which was then a thriving artistic environment. The move had a tremendous impact on the young Signac's engagement with the visual arts and, more generally, with avant-garde culture at the time.

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