PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
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PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
4 More
Property from a Notable Private Collection
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)

La Cité, Paris

PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
La Cité, Paris
signed and dated 'P. Signac 1934' (lower left)
oil on canvas
23 ¾ x 28 ¾ in. (60.2 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1934
Estate of the artist.
Ginette Signac, Paris (daughter of the artist).
Galerie Lucie Weill, Paris (acquired from the above, May 1972).
Anon. sale, M. Motte, M. Bianchi and Maître J.J. Marquet, Sporting-Club d'Hiver, Monte-Carlo, 16 August 1972, lot 50.
Private collection, Brussels (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, Paris, 21 May 2008, lot 58.
Private collection (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 7 May 2013, lot 48.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
F. Cachin, Signac: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, Paris, 2000, p. 340, no. 609 (illustrated).
Paris, Grand Palais, 45ème exposition de la Société des Artistes Indépendants, exposition du cinquantenaire, February-March 1934, p. 281, no. 4108.
Berlin and Stuttgart, Paris im Bild seiner Maler XV.-XX. Jahrhundert, May-June 1954, p. 17, no. 30 (titled Der Pont Neuf und die Cité and dated 1933; with incorrect dimensions).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

With its shimmering, opalescent surface and intricate play of color, Paul Signac’s La Cité, Paris is a masterful study of radiant light and dynamic reflections, each touch of pigment on the canvas capturing the scintillating atmosphere of Paris in the sun. Painted in the final full year of Signac’s life and formerly in the collection of the artist’s daughter Ginette, the painting is a testament to Signac’s enduring love affair with the Seine, which provided him with a frequent source of artistic inspiration throughout his long career.
While Signac traveled extensively through France during the 1920s and 1930s, painting the lively traffic in busy ports such as Marseille, Saint-Malo and Cherbourg, Paris remained his primary base. After each painting campaign he returned to his home and studio on the rue de l’Abbaye, just a short walk from the Seine and the Pont Neuf, from where he could admire the succession of bridges crossing the river. Unlike the Impressionists, Signac was less interested in the play of life that filled these thoroughfares, the crowds of people from all walks of life as they made their way from one side of the city to the other. Instead, it was the grand architectural and structural features of these bridges, as well as their interaction with the surrounding cityscape, that seems to have captivated Signac the most, repeatedly drawing him back to the river. From the Pont Royal and the Pont des Arts, through to the Pont de l’Archevêché, Signac recorded the variety of these different structures as they spanned the river, most often taking up a position on the quays, close to the water’s edge.
In La Cité, Paris, Signac focuses his attention on the view from the left bank of the Seine looking upstream, towards the Ile de la Cité and the iconic western facade of Notre-Dame. One of the most enduring and well-known monuments within the cityscape of Paris, the twelfth-century cathedral had been restored extensively around the mid-century under the direction of the architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and now included a spire. Signac had first painted the architectural landmark in a pair of landscape views from the Quai de la Tournelle in 1885 (Cachin, nos. 86 and 87), the curves of the ambulatory and its dramatic play of flying buttresses, as well as the sharp profile of the new spire dominating the skyline. In other paintings, such as Le Pont-Neuf (Cachin, no. 497) and Pont des Arts (Paris) (Cachin, no. 569), Notre-Dame’s western facade is seen from a distance, its pair of bell towers glimpsed amid the array of other buildings. In La Cité, Paris, Signac adopts a vantage point that allows him a clear view of the grand entrance to the cathedral, capturing the details of the facade’s rich decorations in a myriad of golden tones. However, it is the simple elegance of the Pont Saint-Michel, connecting the Ile de la Cité with the Quai des Grands Augustins, which becomes the central focus of the composition, its succession of three flowing arches reflected in the shimmering surface of the Seine below, creating a doubling effect that accentuates the bridge’s symmetry.
The extreme precision of Georges Seurat’s pointillist technique had exerted a powerful influence upon Signac’s art during the early years of his career, transforming his painterly style into rigorous studies on the nature of perception, color and light. However, following Seurat’s death in 1891, Signac’s style gradually began to shift away from meticulously coordinated points of color, becoming freer and more expressive as the small dots of pigment gave way to thicker, stronger strokes of lustrous paint, applied in tesserae-like blocks that reverberate across his compositions’ surfaces. A number of commentators at the time likened Signac’s brushwork to the glittering mosaics of pre-Renaissance Italy and Byzantium, an analogy further strengthened by Signac himself in his influential treatise D’Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionisme, where he compared the effects of his canvases to monumental decorative schemes: “These canvases, which restore the light to the walls of our modern apartments, which enshrine pure colors in rhythmic lines, which share the charm of Oriental rugs, mosaics and tapestries, are not these decorations also?” (D’Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionisme, Paris, 1911, p. 88).
The evolution of Signac’s technique had reached its peak by the 1930s, and his compositions from this period are filled with bright, luminous color, each individual brushstroke bringing a new life and dynamism to the surface of the canvas. In La Cité, Paris, Signac altered the direction and orientation of his brushstrokes as he worked, infusing the scene with a distinct sense of movement and atmosphere. This is particularly noticeable in the swirling arabesques of the sky above the cathedral, the pink and purple clouds captured in a sequence of rippling brushstrokes that rise upwards in flowing tendrils. Through this elegant combination of free-flowing lines and the rigorous, carefully organized network of vibrantly colored brushwork, Signac achieves a rich, dynamic vision of one of the most iconic views at the very heart of Paris.

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