Insights

This week’s ‘artist in focus’ insight looks at the career of Pointillist and Post-Impressionist Paul Signac, to coincide with the newly-opened exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Rather than a retrospective of Signac’s own oeuvre, however, Signac collectionneur focuses on the artist’s identity as a collector of works by his friends and fellow Post-Impressionists. The museum collaborated with the Archives Signac, which holds the artist’s correspondence and the notebooks in which he meticulously recorded his purchases, in order to compile a list of the works in his collection.

Installation view, Signac collectionneur at Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Signac’s family was well-off financially, and although the artist himself was hardly rich, he was able to buy regularly if not extravagantly. His first recorded purchase was a landscape by Paul Cézanne, and his collection featured examples by many of the Impressionists whose work he admired and studied, including Monet, Degas, and Caillebotte.

P. Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890, 1890, MoMA, New York

Signac’s position as a founding member and organiser – and, as of 1908, president – of the Salon des artistes indépendants left him perfectly positioned to learn about the newest and most avant-garde trends and movements. It is not surprising that he collected works by other Neo-Impressionists, including Seurat, Pissarro, Luce and Cross, but Signac also bought examples by the Nabis painters Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis and Vallotton; and by the Fauves, including Van Dongen, Matisse and Valtat.

Entrance to Signac collectionneur at Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The well-read artist was originally inspired to visit Venice by John Ruskin’s popular treatise on Venetian art and architecture The Stones of Venice, and he spent over a month there in the spring of 1904. A visit in 1910 to Paris was equally inspiring and saw him paint the watercolour Le Pont des Arts, Eté, sold by Dickinson to a private collector. Signac’s own treatise From Eugène Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism makes it clear that he saw all of the 19th and 20th century artistic movements he learned from and collected as interconnected.

The Musée d’Orsay show, which opened on 12 October, will run through 13 February 2022.