PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
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PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
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The Artistic Journey – A Distinguished West Coast Collection
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)

Les tours vertes, la Rochelle

PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
Les tours vertes, la Rochelle
signed and dated 'P. Signac 1913' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 36 1/4 in. (73.3 x 92.2 cm.)
Painted in August-September 1913
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (1913).
Léonce Rosenberg, Paris (2 December 1913).
Clausen, Copenhagen (1920).
Leicester Galleries, London (circa 1920).
A. Metthey, Paris (1927).
Gaston Lévy, Paris (1933); his forced sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 15 December 1943, lot 97 (subject to a settlement agreement with the Gaston Lévy heirs in 2020).
Galerie Robert Schmit, Paris.
Galerie de l'Élysée (Alex Maguy), Paris.
Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above, 1953, then by descent); sale, Sotheby's, London, 22 June 2011, lot 3.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owners.
R. Allard, "Les arts plastiques, Paul Signac, Jules Flandrin, Vuillard, etc." in Les écrits français, vol. 2, no. 2, 5 January 1914, p. 159.
G. Coquiot, Cubistes, futuristes, passéistes, Essai sur la jeune peinture et la jeune sculpture, Paris, 1914, p. 168 (illustrated, possite p. 168).
G. Lévy, Pré-catalogue, circa 1932, p. 418 (illustrated).
"Les 70 ans de Paul Signac" in L’Humanité, 19 December 1933, p. 3 (illustrated).
M. Sandoz, ‘L’œuvre de Paul Signac à La Rochelle, Croix de Vie, Les Sables d’Olonne de 1911 à 1930" in Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire de l’art français, 8 January 1955, pp. 163-165, no. 2 (illustrated, opposite p. 170; titled La Rochelle, Thonier rentrant au port par matin ensoleillé).
M. Sandoz, "Le peintre Paul Signac à La Rochelle et sur les côtes charentaises et poitevines" in Cahiers de l’Ouest, September-October 1957, p. 15.
M. Sandoz, "Signac et Marquet à La Rochelle, Les Sables d’Olonne, La Chaume, Croix de Vie: Influence du site sur leur œuvre, 1911-1933" in Dibutade, no. IV, 1957, p. 12.
F. Cachin, Paul Signac: Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, Paris, 2000, p. 299, no. 495 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie. and Düsseldorf, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Paul Signac, May-December 1913, no. 4.
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paul Signac, May 1930, p. 4, no. 33 (illustrated).
Paris, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Seurat et ses amis: La suite de l’impressionnisme, December 1933-January 1934, no. 92.
Paris, Petit-Palais, Paul Signac, February-March 1934, no. 29.
Tokyo, Matsuzakaya de Ginza and Nagoya, Matsuzakaya de Nagoya, Un siècle de paysages de France, 1870-1970, May-June 1980, no. 13 (illustrated in color).

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

When asked in 1922 what it was about La Rochelle that led him to return to the Atlantic seaport so often, Paul Signac explained, “I go there for the boats: for the color of the hulls and the sails. A magnificent sight! They come from all over to sell fish, it’s like a library of boats” (quoted in M. Ferretti-Bocquillon, Signac 1863-1935, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, p. 271). Painted in 1913, Les Tours vertes, La Rochelle is among the artist’s earliest canvases devoted to this dynamic location, whose charms would draw Signac back on numerous occasions over the ensuing two decades. Depicting the town’s historic harbor through the bold, shimmering brushwork of the artist’s mature pointillist technique, the composition centers on a fishing boat as it glides through the water towards the viewer, the sea below alive with layers of reflections, while above the clouds seem to dance across the sky in swirling arabesques.
Located on the Bay of Biscay, the port of La Rochelle was renowned for the grandeur of its medieval architecture, most notably the distinctive profiles of the three towers which punctuated its embattlements—the round Tour de la Chaîe, built in 1375, the crenelated Tour Saint-Nicolas of 1384, and the elaborately decorated tower of the Tour des quatres sergents, dating from 1445. These impressive structures had stood as markers to the entrance of the port for centuries, a herald to all sailors that they had reached the safety of the harbor. Signac had first discovered the beauty of La Rochelle in 1911 when, enchanted by the hustle and bustle of the lively seaside town, he executed a series of watercolors and pen and ink sketches devoted to the flow of maritime traffic through the harbor walls. Largely focusing on the movements of the local fishing fleet as they depart and return to the safety of port, this concentrated series of studies would provide direct inspiration for luminous oil paintings of La Rochelle, including Sortie du port de La Rochelle (1912; Cachin no. 491), Arc-en-ciel, La Rochelle, le Port (1912; Cachin, no. 494), and the present composition.
In many ways, Signac’s views of La Rochelle were shaped by his own enduring passion for sailing and life on the water. The artist was an enthusiastic and avid yachtsman, buying his first boat when he was just a teenager, and frequently traveled around France aboard his boat, exploring the coastal landscape and a myriad of different seaside towns. The view of the harbor in Les tours vertes, La Rochelle suggests Signac has captured the view from the water, perhaps aboard his own sailboat, positioned at the entrance to the port. Focusing on the unique profile of a tuna fishing boat as it sails through the harbor walls, the artist pays particular attention to the details and nuances of the craft’s structure, rendering its intricate rigging system with a clarity and precision that reveals the depth of his sailing knowledge. The architectural structures of the three towers, meanwhile, act as anchors within the scene, their monumental forms offering a counterbalance to the thin mast and rigging of the boat, their unwavering permanence and stability through centuries of conflict and upheaval offering a striking note of contrast to the fleeting, transient presence of the fishing vessel as it slips through the water.
The true subject of Les tours vertes, La Rochelle, however, is the delicate interplay of color and light effects that dance across the maritime scene. Executed using a dazzling palette of primarily blue and green tones—from deep forest green and rich teal, to bright turquoise and cerulean—the composition becomes a showcase for the artist’s highly individual take on the pointillist technique. Pointillism had been conceived by Signac’s close friend and colleague, Georges Seurat, as a scientific, rational and technical alternative to the Impressionists’ instinctive and spontaneous treatment of nature. Rejecting the irregular brushwork of the Impressionists, Seurat and Signac advocated a more calculated and systematic application of pigment, governed by the principles of color theory. However, following Seurat’s death in 1891, Signac began to use a less restrictive and dogmatic approach to the technique, adopting instead a freer and more expressive painterly style, applying pigment in broad, tesserae-like strokes of paint rather than the precise, minute dots of color which had marked his earlier canvases. The evolution of Signac’s technique is evident in the present composition, as he creates the scene from a mosaic of luminous color, with each individual brushstroke bringing a new life and dynamism to the surface of the canvas.

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