PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
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PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
4 More
The Phillips Family Collection
PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)

Portrieux, Tertre Denis (Opus no. 189)

PAUL SIGNAC (1863-1935)
Portrieux, Tertre Denis (Opus no. 189)
signed and dated 'P. Signac 88' (lower left) and inscribed 'Op. 189' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 ½ x 32 1⁄8 in. (64.8 x 81.5 cm.)
Painted in June-September 1888
Charles Henry, Paris (gift from the artist).
Lannes collection, Paris.
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1961).
Acquired from the above by the Phillips family, 17 April 1964.
S.P. [P. Signac], "Catalogue de l’exposition des XX" in Art et Critique, 1 February 1890, p. 77.
E. Demolder, "Le salon des XX à Bruxelles" in L’Artiste, vol. 60, no. 1, February 1890, pp. 100-101.
J. Krexpel, "Le salon des XX" in La Revue Blanche, no. 1, February 1890, p. 11.
The Artist's Handlist (Cahier d'Opus), circa 1887-1902, no. 189.
The Artist's Handlist (Cahier Manuscrit), circa 1902-1909.
G. Lévy and P. Signac, Pré-catalogue, circa 1929-1932, p. 186.
P. Cabanne, "Au Louvre: Apôtre du divisionnisme, le vrai Signac s’épanouit dans ses aquarelles" in Les Arts, 18-24 December 1963, p. 12.
J.-J. Lerrant, "Paul Signac à qui le Louvre consacre une rétrospective est un grand peintre français" in Le Progrès, 12 January 1964, p. 13.
J. Sutter, ed., The Neo-Impressionists, London, 1970, p. 51 (illustrated in color; titled Roadstead at Portrieux).
F. Cachin, Paul Signac, Milan, 1971, p. 32 (illustrated, fig. 23).
J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1978, p. 126 (illustrated; titled The Anchorage of Portrieux).
J. Clay, "Hachette Réalités" in L’Impressionnisme, 1981, p. 290 (illustrated).
H. Wotte, Paul Signac, Dresden, 1987, p. 32 (illustrated in color, pl. 12; titled Ankerplatz von Portrieux).
F. Cachin, Signac: Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, Paris, 2000, p. 189, no. 171 (illustrated).
M. Feretti-Bocquillon, A. Distel, J. Leighton and S.A. Stein, Signac, New York, 2001, pp. 135-136, no. 30 (illustrated in color, p. 135).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Septième exposition des XX, February 1890, no. 6 (titled La Mer, Portrieux [Côtes-du-Nord]).
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Signac, December 1963-February 1964, pp. 28-29, no. 24 (illustrated, p. 28; titled La rade de Portrieux).
The Art Institute of Chicago, 1981-1984 (on extended loan).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Art Institute of Chicago and Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, L’Impressionnisme et le paysage français, June 1984-April 1985, p. 320, no. 125 (illustrated in color, p. 321; titled La rade de Portrieux).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais; Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Signac, February-December 2001, pp. 175-176, no. 30 (illustrated in color [inverted], p. 176).
Further details
After the pre-sale exhibition, this lot will be transferred to storage in Delaware and will be available for shipment from Delaware. Please note that title to the lot will transfer to the buyer in accordance with the Conditions of Sale while the lot is in storage in Delaware. Contact Christie’s Client Service team at +1 212 636 2000 for further details.

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

Lot Essay

Escaping the hustle and bustle of Paris, Paul Signac spent the summer of 1888 in the Breton fishing village of Portrieux, in the company of his future wife Berthe Roblès and the Symbolist poet Jean Ajalbert. “We decided to spend the summer at the same spot, taking up lodgings at a fisherman’s, eating our meals with him,” Ajalbert later reminisced. “From Portrieux we sailed over to Jersey. An unforgettable vacation” (quoted in Signac, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, p. 134). Having spent the previous summer in the Mediterranean, this trip marked Signac’s return to the northern coast of France, where he was drawn to the wild terrain of the Breton landscape, rather than the fashionable resorts of Normandy. Located on the Côte d’Armor, northwest of the provincial capital Saint-Brieuc, Portrieux offered a diverse range of subjects for the artist’s exploratory eye—over the course of his summer sojourn, Signac embarked upon a sequence of canvases focusing on port scenes and seascapes, which capture the dramatic colors, scintillating light and quintessential maritime vistas of the small port.
Working within the confines of a relatively small geographical area, the artist sought to depict the variety of motifs he had discovered, and from them to create a visual totality that would fully represent the character of Portrieux. Totaling nine oil paintings, along with six studies, the works in this celebrated series include views of the port, jetty and lighthouse in a variety of weather conditions, as well as the Plage de la Comtesse and, as seen in the present composition, the Tertre Denis. Following the custom he had initiated the previous year, the artist designated each of these major canvases with opus numbers, a practice he reserved for his most successful paintings, as if they were symphonic compositions orchestrated in colors. Describing the group in an exhibition catalogue in 1890, Signac wrote: “7 op. from Portrieux (Cotes du Nord). Jetties, sloops, landmarks, yawls, semaphores, yachts, Icelandic schooner, shoals, lighthouses and beacons: synthesis of a small Breton port” (quoted in ibid., p. 133).
Françoise Cachin has noted that Signac’s creativity was sparked by the subtle, silvery light of this stretch of coastline, and the proximity of the water: “He came to realize that the best part of his sensibility and of the pointillist technique were activated for him by scenes of sunshine and sea, by everything that sparkled, teemed and splashed in the bright light. In… Portrieux, Signac painted seascapes with a balance and a gentleness that he perhaps never again equaled. Signac had been especially sensitive to the austere poetry of these landscapes made up of the interplay of water, light, and rock. It was in Portrieux, that he became most attached to the decorative and synthetic values of the lines, to the effects of contrast” (op. cit., 2000, pp. 38-39).
Indeed, the Portrieux marines are among the most consistently pointilliste of Signac’s divisionist canvases, and reflect the growing sophistication of his technique during these years, as his creative collaboration with Georges Seurat reached new heights. Signac and Seurat had met in 1884 during the organization of the inaugural Salon des Artistes Indépendants, and from there engaged in a rich and constantly evolving artistic dialogue, underpinned by a strong bond of friendship. In many ways, the two shared a master-pupil relationship, with the classically trained Seurat shaping and influencing the slightly younger Signac’s approach to painting. As Signac was a self-taught artist, he welcomed Seurat’s knowledge, seeing his painting as a model on which he could base his own developing technique and style, while also reinforcing his interest in color and structure.
Pointillism became a central element of their collaboration. Drawing on a variety of scientific studies into the physics of light, the interaction of colored pigments, and the psychology of perception, Signac and Seurat utilized this technique to bring a new luminosity and optical vibrancy to their painting. The dynamic brushwork and spontaneity of the Impressionists gave way to a method that stressed control, permanence and carefully measured polyphony. Explaining the power of this effect, Signac wrote in his seminal treatise D’Eugéne Delacroix au néo- impressionnisme: “It guarantees the integral harmony of the work by the proportion and balance of these elements, depending on the rules of contrast, shading and radiance. It is a precise and scientific method, which does not enfeeble sensation, but guides and protects it” (quoted in C. Harrison and P. Wood, eds., Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford, 1997, p. 22).
While Seurat was the original progenitor of Pointillism, Signac quickly embraced the fastidious technique, attracted to the extreme rigor and discipline required to achieve the distinctive, carefully delineated mosaic-like brushwork and intricate color patterns of the style. Referencing the optical theories of Charles Blanc, M.-C. Chevreul and Ogden Rood, he began to build his canvases through veils of delicate touches of pigment, exploring the effects of light through a complex play of dazzling, complementary colors. This technique, in which pigments from opposite sides of the color spectrum were contrasted against one another to mutually enhance the brilliance of each hue, allowed Signac to achieve an intense luminosity within his compositions. However, it was the theories of Charles Henry which appear to have had the greatest impact on Signac’s art during this summer in Portrieux—indeed, the artist explicitly stated that his works from that year used “Charles Henry’s latest discoveries on the rhythms and measures of lines and colors” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2001, p. 10).
Signac and Seurat had met the brilliant young mathematician and physiologist during the final Impressionist exhibition in 1886, most likely through their mutual friend Félix Fénéon. Henry, who regularly staged lectures and demonstrations for painters and writers in his apartment, enjoyed a wide range of interests, probing the relationship between aesthetics, music, mathematics and perception. The Pointillists were particularly drawn to Henry’s writings on the manner in which color could affect the viewer, and the emotional resonance of directional lines. According to his theories, the various directions of linear elements could elicit different reactions in the spectator, from upward-moving lines that produced feelings of joy, to those that contained a downward thrust and invoked an air of sadness. Throughout 1888 and 1889 Signac created a number of studies which explored Henry’s ideas, as well as providing illustrations for several of the eccentric polymath’s publications.
In Tertre Denis, Portrieux, Opus 189, Signac incorporates several of Henry’s lessons into the compositional structure of the scene, as he sought to imbue his vision of the landscape with a rich visual harmony. Divided into distinct zones, the scene appears as a series of layers that recede towards the horizon line, each plane echoing and interlinking with one another through subtle color combinations and accents. While firmly rooted in Signac’s direct observations of Portrieux, there is a new level of stylization and refinement at play, striking a delicate balance between the organic and the decorative. The titular land mass serves as a kind of grand, natural architecture that anchors the view, while the boundaries between shore, sea and sky are distilled into a series of undulating, melodic lines that sweep across the canvas from left to right, in a manner that echoes the “harmonic” diagrams Signac had developed for Henry’s publications. It is particularly fitting, therefore, that the first owner of the painting was Charles Henry, who received Tertre Denis, Portrieux, Opus 189 as a gift from Signac shortly after its completion.
While such linear patterning underpins Signac’s depiction of the landscape, it is subsumed in the intense optical sensation generated by the methodically applied dots of complementary color that cover the canvas, illustrating Signac’s growing mastery of Pointillism during these years. The crevices and shadows ascending the incline of the Tertre Denis are described using a mixture of indigo tones and touches of bright orange that stand in stark contrast to the subtly variegated sandy-hued rock face. Touches of gold are woven into the complex criss-cross pattern of the grass, while the sky is an elegant study in subtle gradation, transitioning from dark blue at the top of the canvas, to an almost bright white as it nears the horizon line. While the surface of the canvas vibrates with points of pigment, the overall impression is one of stillness and a quiet calm. A similar atmosphere fills Seurat’s seascapes from this same summer, painted in Port du Bessin, a Norman town that Signac had recommended. Indeed, when their paintings were exhibited side-by-side later that year, critics noted “a fraternal communion of ideas” between the two artists’ work.

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