Le Jardin du Vert-Galant, painted circa 1928, is a bold and colourful view of the Seine, looking up towards the Ile de la Cité in Paris. Almost in the centre of the composition is the titular garden, also referred to as the Square du Vert Galant, named after the statue of the French king, Henri IV, who was rumoured to have gained this other appellation on account of his numerous affairs. This corner of Paris has inspired a range of artists and photographers over the years, ranging from Camille Pissarro, who occupied an apartment at 28, place Dauphine that looked down upon it, to Eugène Atget and Robert Doisneau.
This picture is not dated, yet its similarity to Signac's painting Pont des Arts. Automne, which was acquired directly from the artist during his lifetime by the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, leads to this date being ascribed. Pont des Arts. Automne, which was dated by the artist, shares almost exactly the same panorama-like dimensions as Le Jardin du Vert-Galant and also shows a similar view, though in that case the artist was further down river, meaning that the Pont des Arts dominates the canvas, the Pont Neuf peeking through its arches; certainly the gold and red flecks within the foliage on the right of the canvas hint that this painting dates from the same season as its partner. Intriguingly, due to the near symmetry of the bold composition of Le Jardin du Vert-Galant, one wonders of this scene were not painted from the Pont des Arts depicted in its sister work. Certainly this picture was considered very important by the artist himself, since it remained in Signac's own collection before passing to his daughter, Ginette, by descent.
As a keen sailor and one of the last remaining pioneers of Neo-Impressionism, the subject of the Seine was perfect for Signac. It allowed him to depict what were perhaps his favourite themes, water and shipping, while staying at his apartment at 14, rue de l'Abbaye in the Sixth Arondissement and only a short walk from the scene shown in Le Jardin du Vert-Galant. It thus appeared several times over the years, for instance in 1925's Paris, le Pont des Arts, in which the Ile de la Cité once again sneaks into view.
Water was one of the motifs most favoured by the Neo-Impressionists, and indeed by the Impressionists too, because of the scintillating and ever-changing light effects that it produced. In Le Jardin du Vert-Galant, Signac has revelled in exploring these effects both through the shimmering nature of his Pointillist brushstrokes and also through the fantastic play of reflections, by which the Pont Neuf and the greenery of the Jardin du Vert-Galant appear again on the water's surface. This adds another level to the bold symmetry of the composition, by which the left and right appear superficially to mirror each other, as do the upper and lower halves of the painting. This device is made all the more dramatic by the swirling paintwork with which Signac has rendered the dark, lush, verdant foliage at the centre of the canvas.
Signac had been one of the great pioneers of Neo-Impressionism, alongside his friend and fellow painter Georges Seurat. After the latter's untimely death in 1891, at the mere age of 31, Signac, who had long been the spokesperson and great advocate for the movement, changed his style of painting. Under Seurat's auspices, Signac had been almost mathematical in the concentration and consideration of the application of the tessera-like dots of paint that made up his pictures. Signac, before meeting Seurat, had begun as an enthusiastic painter, and it was this enthusiasm, certainly fuelled by the fear of the loss, that returned to the fore after the death of Seurat. There was a liberation in the way in which Signac painted, and it is clear in the application of paint in Le Jardin du Vert-Galant. This is a painting filled with enjoyment, rather than strategy alone; yet it is a reflection of Signac's incredible ability to combine both the joy of painting and the status of a trailblazer that he was, during this period, the revered president of the Salon des Artistes Indépendants, a position he occupied from 1908 until he resigned in 1934. At the same time, the brushstrokes in Le Jardin du Vert-Galant with enough painstaking attention and patience that Signac's output during this period was limited: only half a dozen paintings dated 1928 are listed in the catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Cachin.
Signac's home in the rue de l'Abbaye was a fundamental centre of open debate and artistic exchange, and his open salons had been a melting pot for a range of avant garde views in the fields of politics and literature as well as art for a number of years. Signac had acquired his Paris abode in 1919; it would remain the centre of his orbit while he travelled extensively, not least sailing and capturing the views of a range of harbours throughout France and the Mediterranean. He lived there with his partner, Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange, to whom he had been attached since a liaison formed around 1909-10, leading to his separation from his wife Berthe, though they remained amicable. Jeanne was also married; she was likewise a Neo-Impressionist painter in her own right, and had studied under Signac. Their daughter Ginette, who was the owner of Le Jardin du Vert-Galant, was born in 1913 and granted legitimacy by Signac in 1927, around the period when this picture was painted, making it an insight into both the artistic and the personal history of Signac.