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Press release

Signac 1863-1935: Master Neo-Impressionist

October 9 – December 30, 2001

On view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from October 9 through December 30, 2001,Signac 1863-1935: Master Neo-Impressionist, will be the first major retrospective of the artist's work in nearly 40 years. Best known for his luminous Mediterranean seascapes rendered in a myriad of "dots" – and later mosaic-like squares – of color, Signac adapted the "pointillist" technique of Georges Seurat with stunning visual impact. The exhibition will feature 121 works, including some 70 oils and a rich selection of Signac's watercolors, drawings, and prints, providing an unprecedented overview of the artist's 50-year career.

Often viewed as "the second man of Neo-Impressionism," Paul Signac (1863-1935) has long been considered an artist of talent in the shadow of the more celebrated Seurat. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue will place the emphasis squarely on Signac's own personal accomplishments so that the unique character of his oeuvre, his artistic process, and the full range of his activities, relationships, and contributions are illuminated.

The exhibition is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Réunion des musées nationaux/Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

"This expansive survey exhibition will offer both scholars and the public the best opportunity in some 40 years to reassess the career of Neo-Impressionist painter Paul Signac," commented Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Long overshadowed by his more celebrated contemporary Georges Seurat, Signac created an extraordinary body of work – most remarkable are his shimmering seascapes and luminous views of the French Riviera. In these works of vivid and pulsating color, Signac fully explored and expanded upon the innovations of Seurat's divisionist painting technique creating images with an intensity and expressive power that belong to him alone."

Arranged chronologically, the selection of works will trace Signac's development from an art based on observation and direct study of nature, through the rigor and optical precision of Neo-Impressionism to a more subjective art based on his own concepts of pictorial and social harmony. Essentially self-taught, Signac's first works, plein-air studies painted in the early 1880s in Paris and its neighboring suburbs, reveal the lessons he absorbed from Monet, Guillaumin, Caillebotte, and other Impressionists whose examples were his starting point.

By the end of the decade, Seurat's art was the crucial catalyst for the evolution of Signac's painting, providing a model for his technique, his manner of working and even, on occasion, the design of his compositions. Notwithstanding Signac's romantic bent, his more tactile brushstrokes and his stronger color contrasts, it was not until the 1890s – after the death of Seurat – that his work fully came into its own. Signac developed a bolder and looser technique, relying increasingly on the dramatic and architectonic play of color. His discovery of "the joy of watercolor" in 1892 – a medium in which, after Cézanne, he was to become the undisputed master in the 20th century – offered a vehicle for a freer and livelier means of expression, one well-suited to his restless, peripatetic lifestyle. In the best of his late works Signac combined the sensual legacy of his first pictures with the cool rationality of Neo-Impressionism to create images of extraordinary chromatic richness and feeling.

An avid yachtsman who settled in Saint-Tropez in 1892, Signac is celebrated for his glorious views of port towns along the French coast and his resplendent seascapes. Prominently featured in the exhibition, these sea and harbor scenes in oil and watercolor will be joined by lesser known works, among them his early views of the industrialized suburbs of Paris, the vibrant watercolor still lifes of his maturity, and striking ink drawings he made at the end of his career. Signac's extraordinary Portrait of Félix Fénéon (1890-91, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and his other ambitious figure compositions, The Dining Room (1886-87, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo), Sunday (1888-90, private collection), and Women at the Well (1892, Musée d'Orsay, Paris) will complete the survey.

The planning of the exhibition was greatly facilitated by the recently published catalogue raisonné of Signac's work by Françoise Cachin, which combines her insight as the artist's granddaughter and acumen as an art historian. Her assistant on this publication, Marina Ferretti-Bocquillon, author of several articles and books devoted to Signac, contributed to the present catalogue and worked closely with the curators, Anne Distel, Chief Curator of the Musée d'Orsay, John Leighton, Director of the Van Gogh Museum, and Susan Alyson Stein, Associate Curator of European Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the selection of works for the exhibition.

A fully illustrated scholarly catalogue, with individual entries on the works included in the exhibition and six introductory essays, will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. The first three essays focus on Signac's respective efforts as a painter, as a watercolorist and draftsman, and as a printmaker. The final essays discuss Signac's myriad relationships with other artists and his activities as a writer, spokesman for the Neo-Impressionist movement, exhibition organizer, political and social activist, yachtsman, and collector. The main body of the book, which provides in-depth entries and color plates for 182 works, is divided into four sections, each prefaced by an overview of the chronological period – Impressionism: 1883-1885; Neo-Impressionism, 1886-1891; Saint-Tropez, 1892-1906; and Ports and Travels: Signac in the Twentieth Century.

The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part by the Janice H. Levin Fund.

To coincide with Signac 1863-1935: Master Neo-Impressionist, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will mount a complementary exhibition, Neo-Impressionism: The Circle of Paul Signac in the Robert Lehman Wing. Drawn from the Museum's permanent collection, it will feature approximately 60 paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints by Signac, Seurat, Maximilen Luce, Henri-Edmond Cross, and Charles Angrand that will provide a context for appreciating Signac's achievements in relation to others in the Neo-Impressionist circle.

This exhibition is made possible by Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc.

May 31, 2001

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