PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)

Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto)

PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto)
signed and dated ‘P. Signac. 91’ (lower left); inscribed with Opus number ‘Op 219’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 7/8 x 32 in. (65.7 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1891
Henri-Nicolas Lejeune, France (acquired from the artist, 1891).
Henri Lejeune, Saint-Cloud (by descent from the above); sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 27 June 1977, lot 13.
Bluestone Corporation, New York.
Private collection (until 1993).
Private collection; sale, Christie’s, New York, 18 November 1998, lot 28 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale).
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
F. Fénéon, "Paul Signac" in La Plume, 1 September 1891, p. 299.
E. Demolder, "Le Salon des XX Bruxelles" in L'Artiste, March 1892, p. 226.
"Clôture du Salon des XX" in L'art moderne, 13 March 1892, p. 82.
A. Alexandre, "Indépendants" in Paris, 18 March 1892, p. 2.
"Instantanés. Paul Signac" in Gil Blas, 20 March 1892, p. 1.
F. Javel, "Signac" in Gil Blas, 20 March 1892, p. 3.
C. d'Hennebaut, "Salon des Indépendants" in Moniteur des arts, 25 March 1892, p. 1.
L'art moderne, 27 March 1892, p. 1.
E. Cousturier, "Société des Artistes Indépendants" in L'En-dehors, 27 March 1892, p. 3.
J. Christophe, "Salon des Artistes Indépendants" in La Plume, 1 April 1892, no. 71, p. 157.
"Exposition des Artistes Indépendants" in Entretiens politiques et littéraires, April 1892, vol. IV, no. 25, p. 189.
P.M. Olin, "Les XX" in Mercure de France, 1 April 1892, pp. 342-343.
F. Fénéon, "Au Pavillon de la Ville de Paris, Société des Artistes Indépendants" in Le chat noir, 2 April 1892, p. 1932.
C. Saunier, "Les Indépendants" in La revue indépendante, April-June 1892, vol. XXIII, nos. 66-68, p. 43.
G. Geffroy, "Les Indépendants" in La vie artistique, 1893, p. 370.
Signac, exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1963, p. 45.
J. Halperin, Félix Fénéon: Oeuvres plus que complètes, Paris, 1970, vol. I, pp. 198 and 212.
F. Cachin, Paul Signac, Milan, 1971, p. 51 (incorrectly titled Return of the Trawlers, scherzo).
"The Sale Room" in Apollo, November 1977, vol. 106, no. 189, pp. 429 and 431 (illustrated, p. 429, fig. 3).
H. Belbeoch, Les peintres de Concarneau, Paris, 1993, p. 100 (illustrated in color).
R. Thomson, Monet to Matisse: Landscape Painting in France, New York, 1994, pp. 145-146.
L. Tansini, "Van Gogh et Basquiat triomphent à New York" in Journal des arts, 4 December 1998.
T. Rodrigues, ed., Christie's Review of the Year 1998, London, 1999, p. 74 (illustrated in color).
R. Roslak, “Symphonic Seas, Oceans of Liberty: Paul Signac’s La Mer, Les Barques (Concarneau)” in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, Spring 2005, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 19 (illustrated in color, fig. 5; titled Larghetto (opus 219)).
F. Cachin, Paul Signac: Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, Paris, 2000, p. 204, no. 215 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 41).
C. Homburg, ed., Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: Painting, Poetry, Music, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 2014, p. 40 (illustrated in color, p. 174, fig. 129).
Brussels, Neuvième exposition annuelle des XX, February 1892, no. 4 (titled Larghetto (Op. 219)).
Paris, Pavillon de la ville de Paris, Huitième exposition des Artistes Indépendants, March-April 1892, p. 69, no. 1128 (titled Matin, Concarneau).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May-June 1981, January-June 1983 and October 1983-June 1985 (on extended loan).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais; Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Signac, February-December 2001, p. 206, no. 54.
Seattle, Experience Music Project, DoubleTake: From Monet to Lichtenstein, April 2006-January 2007, p. 25 (illustrated in color, p. 24).
Oregon, Portland Art Museum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, October 2015-May 2017, pp. 82-85, no. 17 (illustrated in color, p. 83; detail illustrated in color, pp. 84-85).
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Lot Essay

Writing to the critic Félix Fénéon in September 1891, Paul Signac reported that he, his partner Berthe Roblès, and his friend Georges Lecomte were “wild with happiness” as they enjoyed the late summer sunshine in the small fishing village of Concarneau (quoted in R. Roslak, “Symphonic Seas, Oceans of Liberty: Paul Signac’s La Mer: Les Barques (Concarneau),” in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 4, no. 1, spring 2005, p. 28). After a tumultuous few months, in which his close friend and artistic colleague Georges Seurat had died unexpectedly at the age of just 31, Signac left Paris at the beginning of the summer, setting sail in his new boat, the racing yacht Olympia, in search of respite and inspiration. Situated on the southern coast of the Breton peninsula, not far from Pont-Aven, Concarneau became Signac’s base for this extended sojourn, offering him the perfect mixture of motifs and recreational activities—the artist had initially been drawn to the area by the series of summer regattas that were taking place along this stretch of the coast, several of which he competed in. It was during this stay, immersed in the rhythms and everyday rituals of the local fishing community, that Signac created the masterful and harmonious quintet of seascapes collectively known as La Mer: Les Barques (Concarneau). Described by Fénéon as paintings that “cause a harmonious and nostalgic dream to blossom in the light,” these canvases stand among the artist’s most important pointillist works, and reveal the highly poetic vision that underpinned Signac’s art during this period of his career (quoted in M. Ferretti-Bocquillon, A. Distel, J. Leighton and S. Stein, eds., Signac: 1863–1935, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, p. 12).
For several years Signac had been experimenting with creating concentrated series of interconnected paintings, focusing primarily on images of water, in the form of rivers or the sea. From his views of Portrieux (Cachin, nos. 164-178), Cassis (Cachin, nos. 181-187) and Saint-Briac (Cachin, nos. 205-208), to his meditative visions of the Seine at Les Andelys (Cachin, nos. 119-128) and Herblay (Cachin, nos. 188-196), he captured the timeless character of these watery landscapes, reveling in the play of reflections and light as it bounced off the surface of the water. Signac’s choice of view and motif within these compositions were often shaped by his own personal experiences as an avid yachtsman, a passion which had emerged during his youth—he purchased his first boat while still a teenager, marking the beginning of a life-long affair with the water that would see him own over thirty individual sailing crafts. As a result, he was particularly attuned to the shifting moods of the water, capturing the subtle changes that occurred with the slightest alteration in the direction of the wind or the tide.
In many ways, the La Mer: Les Barques (Concarneau) series can be seen as the culmination of these explorations, eloquently charting the shifting character of the sea at various times of day and in different weather conditions, while nevertheless remaining a harmonious, unified set when considered in concert with one another. At the same time, they are unique among Signac’s oeuvre, thanks to the addition of a musical subtitle to each of the canvases: scherzo (Cachin, no. 213), larghetto (the present lot), allegro maestoso (Cachin, no. 217), adagio (Cachin, no. 220) and presto finale (Cachin no. 219). These additional titles, under which the quintet were originally exhibited in 1892, reveal the importance of music to Signac’s pointillist practice during these years, which the artist felt offered a powerful connection to the aims of the Neo-Impressionist technique. Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto) occupies the second position within this landmark series, depicting a flotilla of local sardine boats on a calm summer’s morning, their colorful sails arranged in regular, rhythmical patterns as they depart the harbor and head towards the horizon. Executed in a richly modulated array of complementary tones of orange and blue, the painting is a powerful illustration of the luminous, effervescent quality of Signac’s pointillist technique, at an important turning point in the history of the movement.
Conceived in terms of tonalities, rhythms and harmonies, Signac’s pointillist paintings achieved an effect that was at once still and controlled, and yet alive with a thousand points of pigment, which shifted between small, precise dots of paint to longer, almost rectangular strokes that seem held together by a strange, internal gravity. Each touch of color was carefully considered for the effect it would bring to the canvas, from the initial swathes of luminous pigment which demarcate the underlying structure of the landscape, to the tiny points of color added at the final stage of the composition’s creation to reinforce the drawing or to enhance the subtle nuances Signac detected in the view. In Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto) the virtuosity of the pointillist technique is revealed in the gently rippling surface of the water, conveyed through subtly variegated passages of blue brushwork punctuated by small touches of yellow and orange to denote the play of light on the undulating sea. Similarly, Signac’s subtle manipulations in the density of his brushstrokes across the sky create a richly luminous tapestry of points that elegantly evoke the bright, clear tones of early morning sunlight and the crisp atmosphere of the day before the heat of the sun truly makes itself known.
The flotilla of fishing boats cut through the water at a serene pace as they depart the safety of the harbor, their distinctive sails arranged across the canvas in a regular, rhythmic pattern gradually receding into the distance. While firmly rooted in the fishing culture of Concarneau, the arrangement of the boats and the emphasis on flat, clear forms reveal the influence of Japanese prints, recalling the seascapes of artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai. Like many of his contemporaries, Signac had fallen under the spell of japonisme during the 1880s and is known to have visited an exhibition of Japanese prints staged by the École des Beaux-Arts in the spring of 1890, where he was captivated by a number of Hiroshige’s landscape views, studying them at length. At the same time, the careful arrangement of the boats have led several commentators to compare them to musical notes within a score, the rippling water resembling the lines of sheet music, each vessel or rock acting as a visual representation of a musical sound.
Signac’s theories regarding the connection between music and the visual arts had been percolating for several years by the point he embarked upon the La Mer: Les Barques (Concarneau) series, influenced in part by his readings of Charles Baudelaire’s collection of essays Curiosités esthétiques and L’art romantique, several excerpts of which he included in his seminal treatise, D’Eugéne Delacroix au néo-impressionnisme. He often used musical analogies to describe different aspects of pointillism—a single touch of color on the canvas echoed “a note in a symphony,” while in the act of creation the Neo-Impressionist painter was reminiscent of a composer, directing individual instruments to create a harmonious whole. However, Signac believed it was in the experience of viewing a Neo-Impressionist painting that his most evocative comparison with music can be seen: “To listen to a symphony, one doesn’t situate oneself among the brass but in a place where the sounds of the diverse instruments blend in the way the composer wanted them to. After that one could enjoy dissecting the score, note by note, and in doing so study the manner of its orchestration. In the same way, in front of a divided picture, it will be advisable first to stand far enough away to perceive the impression of the whole, then stop and come closer to study the play of colored elements” (quoted in R. Roslak, op. cit., 2005, p. 18).
As Françoise Cachin has pointed out: “This was a preoccupation shared by all the Symbolist writers and painters. The system of harmonizing color schemes by combining divided colors reminded them of the role of notes and melodic lines in musical compositions” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2001, p. 165). Signac had been explicitly emphasizing the connection between musical structure and his work since 1887, assigning opus numbers to his paintings in place of traditional titles. “Wouldn’t it be preferable,” the artist explained, “if instead of being encumbered by a subject and a title, the painter, like the musician, were to title his work Op. no….? His repertoire would thus be infinitely varied and his freedom would not be restrained by the subject” (quoted in ibid., p. 76). However, he brought this concept to its most dynamic and intriguing expression in the La Mer: Les Barques (Concarneau) paintings. By identifying each canvas with a separate musical term in the form of a subtitle, Signac encouraged his viewers to consider the group as a pictorial symphony, each painting representing a different stage or movement in his examination of its central theme—the timeless passage of fishing boats as they traverse the sea.
Signac achieves a sense of internal harmony across the series through a number of common features that tie the canvases together visually. For example, each composition holds a similar horizon line, dividing the scene into roughly equal expanses of sky and sea, while the same fishing vessels, with their distinctive sails and profiles, recur as the central motif in each work. They are also united by a color palette centered on the interplay of complementary tones of blue and yellow, covering the full spectrum of both colors, from violet to indigo, pale gold to vibrant orange. At the same time, this overall sense of harmony was counterbalanced by a through-line of contrast and variety, in which each canvas retained a sense of its own individuality. By focusing on different times of day and weather conditions, as well as subtly shifting the viewpoint so that the series begins close to shore before advancing farther out to sea, and back again, Signac conjures varying moods from one canvas to the next, fulfilling his goal for “unity in variety” or “variety in unity” (quoted in R. Roslak, op. cit., 2005, p. 21).
This is particularly evident in the different sense of movement that fills each scene. For example, in Concarneau. Pêche à la sardine. Opus 221 (adagio), the boats appear almost stationary, the lack of any wind forcing the fishermen to pull in their sails and row themselves to shore at a slow pace. In contrast, Concarneau. Rentrée des chaloupes. Opus 222 (presto finale) contains a dramatic sense of fast, diagonal movement as it depicts the return of the fishing fleet to shore amid a heavy squall or storm, each boat buffeted sideways by the wind. It is here that the link between the canvases and their musical subtitles are most evident, with each term representing a different tempo, from extremely slow to fast-paced. In the present composition, Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto), the overall atmosphere of the painting evokes the slow tempo suggested by the larghetto subtitle. The boats appear to edge smoothly through the still water, the gentle strength of the breeze indicated by the raised sails of each vessel, which hold their shape but do not appear to billow. Their evenly paced movement contrasts with the stillness and permanence of the large rock in the foreground, and the edge of the harbor just glimpsed on the right hand edge of the composition, their presence acting as anchors within the landscape. As Robyn Roslak has noted, it was this interplay between the subtitles and movement within the canvases that make the La Mer: Les Barques (Concarneau) series “more complex and evocative than Signac’s earlier marines-in-series, none of which contain musical titles or represent natural or human activity in such a measured or harmonic way” (ibid., p. 35).
Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto) made its public debut at the Neuvième exposition annuelle des XX in Brussels in February 1892, alongside the other four paintings from the series. This was an important event for the Neo-Impressionists, marking their first large scale public exhibition following Seurat’s untimely death. Alongside a large posthumous showing of Seurat’s oeuvre, which Signac was integral to organizing, the exhibition offered an important opportunity to showcase and promote the continued relevance and potential of the pointillist style, in the wake of this great artistic loss. Signac felt acutely the pressures associated with the exhibition—as Marina Ferretti-Bocquillon has explained, “The future of the Neo-Impressionist school lay in his hands”—and as such, the paintings he chose to include may be seen as an important statement of his commitment to the style, demonstrating not only the poetic potential of the pointillist method, but also a future direction for the movement (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2001, p. 109). In contrast to the vast number of Seurat’s works on show, Signac was represented solely by the five La Mer: Les Barques (Concarneau) paintings at the exhibition, allowing visitors to concentrate on the power of the series and his harmonious vision.
Signac exhibited the five paintings as a group again later that year at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, at which point he updated their titles, adding a more descriptive heading to each canvas, in addition to the opus numbers and musical subtitles. The series received favourable attention from critics reviewing the show, with Edmond Cousturier writing: “With the recent pages of his symphonic La Mer, M. Signac continues to grace his canvases with the most lavish harmonies to enchant the eye” (quoted in ibid., p. 166). The series proved equally popular with collectors, with each of the compositions finding buyers quickly. The present work appears to have been the first painting to leave Signac’s studio, acquired just weeks after its completion in late 1891 by Henri-Nicolas Lejeune.

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