Painted between June and December 1928, Paul Signac’s Le Pont de Viviers depicts an expansive vista of the river Rhône and the ancient town of Viviers, situated in southern France. Bathed in a soft light, the painting is rendered in a harmonious, mosaic-like mirage of pastel tones, exemplifying Signac’s late form of Neo-Impressionism, the movement he had propagated throughout his career.
Signac spent the summer of 1928 in Viviers. After spending the duration of the First World War isolated in Antibes, from 1920 Signac picked up his brushes once more and began travelling around the country, seeking new pictorial inspiration, which he found in the coastal and riverside towns of France, such as Marseille, La Rochelle and Samois. Signac had first visited Viviers in 1926, exploring the town and its vicinity and depicting the scenery in a number of sketches, watercolours and drawings. Signac wrote to a friend, ‘The town itself, perched on a rock and overshadowed by its splendid cathedral, is very picturesque – a more ornate and less sombre Saint-Paul [-de-Vence]. The scenery roundabout is so varied’ (Signac, quoted in Paul Signac: A Collection of Watercolors and Drawings, exh. cat., Arkansas, 2000, p. 113). In Le Pont de Viviers, Signac has depicted this scenic landscape, painting the modern suspension bridge crossing the wide river, with the ancient walled town and the statuesque cathedral rising from the riverbank behind. Travelling the width and breadth of France, Signac captured the gradually changing face of the modernising landscape, which is contrasted in the present work by the visual depiction of old meeting new.
Signac often liked to frame his views of ports and rivers with a large, solid architectural element, which anchored and balanced the water-filled compositions. Bridges were one of his favourite motifs, appearing frequently in his paintings throughout his career. In the same year that he painted Le Pont de Viviers, the artist had also painted views of a number of the bridges in Paris, relishing the repeated forms of these constructions and the reflections they created in the water below them. In the present work, the plunging perspective created by the bridge frames the scene, leading the viewer’s eye across the wide stretch of rippling water and shimmering reflections, to the majestic cathedral and the landscape behind. Free from boats and the bustling activity of his port scenes, Le Pont de Viviers exudes a sense of complete tranquillity and stillness, capturing the beauty of rural France.
Signac has painted the landscape with individual daubs of colour. Soft mauves, pale blues and light pinks complement the bright yellows, oranges, emerald greens, and deep purple touches of colour that vibrate across the surface of the canvas. The radiant vitality that the array of colours conveys exemplifies Signac’s late Neo-Impressionist style. Signac remained devoted to Neo-Impressionism for the entirety of his career, however, his work is often divided into two key periods: his paintings executed from the mid-1880s alongside the movement’s creator, Georges Seurat; and the works that Signac created after his great friend and artistic accomplice’s sudden and premature death in 1891. Signac’s earlier form of Neo-Impressionism was characterised by a rigorous technique whereby individual dots of colour were methodically applied to the canvas in accordance with the laws of colour theory. After Seurat’s death, Signac increasingly began to seek a greater sense of spontaneity and expression in his painting, and as a result, his style began to loosen, allowing for a greater sense of luminosity and expression to radiate from his canvases. This freer application of paint reinvigorated Signac’s canvases, allowing for his ardent love of colour and instinctive skill as a colourist to emerge. In Le Pont de Viviers, the varied strokes of impastoed colour enliven the surface of the canvas, creating a shimmering vision of harmonious tones.
At the time that Signac painted Le Pont de Viviers, the artist was considered one of the leading figures of the art world, having achieved international artistic renown. In 1908, Signac had been named the President of the Société des Artistes Indépendants, and three years later, he was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour, one of the highest awards that could be bestowed upon an artist. With widespread critical acclaim came numerous one-man exhibitions and retrospectives. In 1928, the year that Le Pont de Viviers was painted, Signac had been offered a lucrative contract with a group of art dealers, including Bernheim-Jeune. Two years later, the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune featured this painting in an exhibition of Signac’s work, and later in the same year, the Galerie Georges Petit likewise presented the painting.