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

Antibes (la pinède)

Details
Paul Signac (1863-1935)
Antibes (la pinède)
signed and dated 'P Signac 1917' (lower left)
oil on canvas
36 3/8 x 29 in. (92.3 x 73.5 cm.)
Painted in December 1917
Provenance
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris.
Mme F. Caussy, Paris (1923).
Germaine Lecomte, Paris.
J.-P. Moueix, Libourne (1952 and until at least 1960).
Martin Fabiani, Paris (1965).
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries French Art Gallery, New York.
Sam Salz, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, April 1965.
Literature
L. Cousturier, P. Signac, Paris, 1922 (illustrated, pl. 18).
G. Lévy and P. Signac, Pré-catalogue, circa 1929-1932, p. 437.
G. Besson, Paul Signac, Paris, 1935 (illustrated, pl. 16).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, p. 183, no. 58 (illustrated; dated 1914).
F. Cachin, Signac: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 2000, p. 306, no. 514 (illustrated; with incorrect cataloguing).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paul Signac: Peintures, cartons de tableaux, dessins, aquarelles, May 1923, no. 22 (titled Juan-les-Pins: La Pinède).
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Lot Essay

In December 1917, working in his studio from a watercolor study he had done three years earlier, Paul Signac completed this painting of a stately grove of aged, umbrella-like stone pines (pins parasols), located on the Pointe de Bacon, from which the port of Antibes lay visible across the bay. The old fortress and cathedral towers, looming high above a formidable, white stone sea wall, are the landmarks of this ancient fishing and trading town on the Mediterranean; these motifs also figure in paintings by Boudin, Monet, and Renoir. While the latter were artists on tour, making their way along the coast to or from Italy, Signac in the late 1890s came to reside in the Midi, and since 1913 had been dividing his time between homes in Saint-Tropez and Antibes.
The crowns of the great pines appear to shelter Antibes, a place which had become a haven for Signac, far removed from the carnage of the First World War, then in its fourth year. Aged fifty at the outbreak of the conflict, the artist was too old for military service. Although far from any danger, such as Parisians faced from random, terrorizing air raids, Signac endured instead a crisis of confidence in the fundamental values he had long held dear.
A dedicated pacifist and humanitarian, Signac had been shocked at the sudden and uncontrollable escalation of events that led the European powers to draw up sides and foolishly declare war in August 1914. From his point of view as an ardent anarchist, Signac railed at the absolutist regimes—those of the German Kaiser, the Austrian Emperor, and the Russian Czar—which had foisted a false rationale for war on working-class masses who harbored no animosity toward one another, but having been fed hateful, nationalist jingoism, patriotically sacrificed themselves in many millions on battlefields across Europe. The artist wrote to his wife Berthe: “I really think that I shall never be able to recover from the appalling distress in which I am sinking, despite my efforts” (quoted in Signac 1863-1935, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, p. 314).
As a founding member of the Salon des Indépendants in 1884, Signac persuaded the organization to suspend its customary annual spring exhibition for the duration of the war. To have proceeded with these events, he argued, was unfair and disrespectful to the many potential participants, including men half his age and less, some just beginning their careers, who had been called up to serve their country in the armed forces and found themselves in harm’s way. He often wrote to these young artists at the front to lift their morale.
Between the outbreak of the war and—still nearly a year away—the Armistice of November 1918, Signac painted only seventeen canvases, none in the remainder of 1914, just one in 1915, and then only a handful in each of the ensuing three years of hostilities. He suffered from time to time from a shortage of paints. “I have sent seven paintings to Bernheim,” he wrote to artist Charles Angrand in January 1917, “three years’ work!” (quoted in ibid., p. 315). Signac had been planning an exhibition in Paris at the end of the year when news of the Bolshevik Revolution arrived from Russia. The artist wrote to the gallerist Félix Fénéon on 18 November that he would not visit Paris while “we are undergoing these horrors” (ibid.). Signac was able to sell, nonetheless, a few paintings as were necessary to sustain himself, his new companion Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange, their daughter Ginette (born in October 1913), and the households in Saint-Tropez and Antibes.
Only one painting that Signac completed during the Great War clearly refers to the conflict, Le nuage rose, 1916 (Cachin, no. 509). A squadron of torpedo boats skirts the horizon, while a solitary fishing boat drifts in the foreground, perhaps symbolic of the artist himself and his situation. A wild, banshee-like apparition appears to have conjured forth an ominous, towering cloud, resembling the smoke of a massive explosion, setting the sea aglow with its pinkish, blood-tinted reflection.
Other wartime pictures depict Signac’s favorite haunts along the coast, in the vicinities of Antibes, Saint-Tropez, and Cannes, which during the 1920s and 1930s became known as the Côte d’Azur and developed into the popular vacationer’s and tourist destinations they are today. Greek traders settled the site of the present-day port of Antibes as the town of Antipolis during the 5th century BCE. Signac was drawn to the ancient Mediterranean way of life, steeped in the natural harmonies of land and sea, and the embracing warmth of the Midi climate. Above all, he reveled in the glorious landscape, suffused throughout with the brilliant, crystalline splendor of light reflected off the coastal waters, and glinting off the foliage of pine and olive groves. Antibes provided precious comfort for the artist’s troubled spirit during the difficult wartime period.
Signac painted Antibes (la pinède) in his accustomed divisionist manner, employing the larger, block-like strokes of pure and tinted colors that he favored after the turn of the century, which may be likened to the tesserae in a mosaic, such as those in the medieval Byzantine manner the artist had admired during his travels in Italy. The larger stroke animates the essentially flat, zoned spaces in Signac’s compositions, while also serving to construct, as if with colored bricks and mortar, the forms within them. Matisse, Derain, Delaunay, Picabia, and others worked their way through a similar divisionist phase, a debt they owe to Signac and his colleague Henri-Edmond Cross. Employing this method became a rite of passage for any devotee of colorism in painting, empowering them to forge their own contributions to early 20th century modernism.
Antibes (la pinède) is most significantly a landscape as allegory, Signac’s deeply felt encomium for the French nation—past, present, and future. The pine grove is symbolic of its enduring people, standing tall, unbowed, united, even if some branches of evergreen foliage have browned and withered in the fiery sun, as if in the crucible of war. A white stone memorial stele, reminiscent of such monuments in antiquity, honors the sacrifice of someone perhaps known to the artist, and many more who were not.

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