Paul Signac (1863-1935)
Paul Signac (1863-1935)

Marseille, la brume jaune

Paul Signac (1863-1935)
Marseille, la brume jaune
signed with the initials 'PS' (lower right)
oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 25 1/2 in. (54 x 64.8 cm.)
Painted in 1922
Galerie George Giroux, Brussels.
Anton Kröller and Helene Kröller-Müller, Amsterdam, by whom acquired from the above on the advice of Henry van de Velde (the architect of the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo).
Salomon van Deventer, The Hague (the former Director of the Kröller-Müller Museum), by whom acquired from the above, and thence by descent to the present owner.
G. Lévy [in collaboration with the artist], Pré-catalogue, produced circa 1929-1932, p. 470 (illustrated).
Beeldende Kunst, March 1935, pp. 84-85 (illustrated no. 85).
F. Cachin, Signac, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 2000, no. 551, p. 318 (illustrated).
On loan to the Landesmuseum Hannover.

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Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

Marseille, la brume jaune was painted in 1922 and perfectly demonstrates the artist’s experimentations with a pointillist use of colour. Marseille, la brume jaune depicts one of Signac’s favoured subjects, a harbour, this time presented as cloaked in an atmospheric, hazy fog. Signac has captured the dappled light as it breaks through the mist, employing a combination of chromatic harmonies, which imbue the scene with an effervescent beauty and subtle, sparkling light.

Depicting the port of Marseille, the present work depicts one of Signac’s most favoured themes. An ardent and accomplished yachtsman himself, the artist spent many of his later years travelling around the ports of France and beyond, delighting in the combination of light and water and the visual possibilities they offered. After spending the duration of the First World War isolated in Antibes, from 1920 Signac had begun travelling enthusiastically around the country, searching for new scenery that could inspire compositions such as Marseille, la brume jaune. In 1922, the year that the present work was painted, Signac had spent time in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, as well as other towns in the Midi, including, at the end of the year, Marseille. Marseille, on the South coast of France, had at this time, one of the largest ports in the country, the gateway to the Mediterranean, inspiring the artist to depict the scene on a number of occasions. In Marseille, la brume jaune Signac has depicted the harbour in his distinctive Neo-Impressionist style, in which forms are portrayed with individual brushstrokes of delicate harmonies of colour; the subject of the painting a mere pretext for the subtle interplay of light effects.

Marseille, la brume jaune exemplifies Signac’s late form of Pointillism. This revolutionary colouristic technique had been pioneered in the mid-1880s by Signac, along with Georges Seurat. In contrast to the spontaneous approach of Impressionism that was based on the intuitive observation of light effects, these artists incorporated the latent scientific discoveries of the time into their work. Inspired by the colour theory of scientists, such as Michel Eugène Chevreul and Ogden Rood, Signac and Seurat started to fracture the colour in their painting into a myriad of minute dabs of paint, which combined complementary colours in order to achieve a more vivid rendering of the vibrant and rich effects of light.

By the end of the 19th Century, Signac’s pointillist style had changed. Adopting a less restrictive and dogmatic approach to the technique, Signac allowed for his instinctive talent as a colourist to emerge: the careful restraint, which had characterised his earlier works, was replaced by greater directness and a more luminous sensuality, as is masterfully evidenced in Marseille, la brume jaune. In the present work, Signac has depicted the calm bay of the port as a mirage composed of pastel blue, purple and pink hues reflected on the calm water below. Evoking the hazy, distorting effect of the fog, the artist has rendered the surrounding scenery on the banks of the harbour in the same soft, tranquil colours. This mosaic-like array of exquisite colour harmonies brilliantly conjures the muted atmosphere of the mist-filled harbour. In the midst of the delicate hues, yellow, the complementary colour of violet, has been used to describe the soft areas of light as it breaks through the mist, creating dappled reflections on the surface of the water, and illuminating the large boat that glides through the scene. The boat is depicted with brighter tones, contrasting with the soft hues surrounding it; the broad sail composed of deeper blues, and the structure and shadows of the masts and rigging, with a combination of yellow and green. Writing to fellow Neo-Impressionist painter, Théo van Rysselberghe, Henri-Edmond Cross enthusiastically described his response to Signac’s masterful use of colour, such as can be seen in Marseille, la brume jaune, ‘I always experience a very painterly emotion in front of Signac’s canvases; I like to look at them close up as much as from far away. There’s a play of hues in them as ravishing as happy combinations of gems, and it is his alone’ (H.E. Cross in a letter to T. van Rysselberghe, quoted in M. Ferretti-Bocquillon, Signac 1863-1935, exh. cat., New York, 2001, p. 20).

Marseille, la brume jaune represents the artist’s continued expression of his pioneering artistic technique and use of colour theory, a culmination of his many years of reflection and experimentation. Renowned for his definitive Neo-Impressionist style, by 1922, the time that the present work was painted, Signac was a leading and revered figure in the French and European art worlds. A subtle rendition of the atmospheric light effects of a port in the fog, Marseille, la brume jaune seems to offer a modern, Neo-Impressionist tribute to the work of J.M.W. Turner, an artist who Signac had deeply admired throughout his career; he unequivocally stated that Turner was, ‘the master whom I think of most often’ (Signac, quoted in M. Ferretti-Bocquillon, op. cit., p. 18). Turner’s scenes of ports and harbours are illuminated by vivid light effects. Signac was equally inspired by the magical effects of light, which Marseille, la brume jaune, a glowing and atmospheric harbour scene, perfectly demonstrates.

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