“The golden age has not passed; it lies in the future.”
The scientific application of optical theory that enables television would have intrigued and vindicated the radical 19th Century French painter Paul Signac’s championing of Pointillism. Devised by the post-impressionist artist Georges Seurat, small dots of pure color are placed side by side on the painter’s canvas allowing the eye to optically mix the color.
Signac was 21 when came across Seurat’s work to which he had an instant affinity and the two became lifelong friends.
The son of an affluent middle class family, Signac had given up studying architecture to pursue the life of a painter, inspired by the work of the impressionists. As a 16-year-old Signac had been chased out of the 1880 5th Impressionist exhibition by Paul Gaugin whilst copying an Edgar Degas painting with the reportedly stinging rebuke ‘One does not copy here Sir!’
The discovery of Seurat’s work led him to state “the separated elements will be reconstituted into brilliantly colored lights.”
And two years after the discovery Signac was exhibiting his own landscapes that had confidently moved on from the loose impressionist style to that of the more formal and scientific pointillism.
About which the art critic and fellow anarchist Félix Fénéon said “The colors provoke each other to mad chromatic flights – they exult, shout! And the Seine flows on, and in its waters flow the sky and the vegetation along the riverside.”
Being in the vanguard of artistic expression suited Signac well, for not only did his art but also his politics challenged the traditional and throughout his life he was an impassioned advocate of both. Whilst introducing Seurat’s theories to others including Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Camille Pissarro he also improvised upon Pointillism. Signac’s later works evolved from the dots of Pointillism into the mosaic like tiles of Divisionism.
For as he has reportedly said “The anarchist painter is not the one who will create anarchist pictures, but the one who will fight with all his individuality against official conventions.”
The exhibition Signac: Une Vie au Fil de L’eau is currently on show at Switzerland’s Fondation de l’Hermitage until the 22nd of May.