Marshalltown Arts & Civic Center

Paul Signac

Paul Signac was the only son of a French saddle-harness maker, living on the threshold of the 20th century. He was passionately interested in the breakthroughs in mechanization, architectural engineering, electricity, transportation, and medicine that were happening daily. Signac is regarded as a gifted colorist whose work blended the technological advancements of his time with his own confident free spirit. As he himself said in 1895, “The progress to be made is to rid ourselves of impossible imitation and become daring.”

He was associated with a number of well-known and influential artists, and for a time was a student of Claude Monet. Dreaming of a “science of art,” he eventually refused formal academic guidance, and furthered his education through self-study and associations with Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh. The influence of these relationships worked both ways, as his love of color and daring spirit became evident in their own works.

But the personal and professional relationship that most defines Signac is that with George Seurat, whom he met at an exhibition in Paris in 1884. Signac was intrigued by Seurat’s systematic methods and theory of color and together they began to experiment with juxtaposed small dots of pure color on canvas, intending for the eye to blend them when viewing. The method was scientific and the result was Pointillism, what today may well be called Pixellism.

Signac embraced Pointillism for a number of years, but eventually created his own signature style. The resulting decorative use of color and elements of Japanese design played a decisive role in the evolution of Fauvism.

In addition to painting, Signac authored several influential books on art and became an accomplished builder and navigator. His final years were spent on the then unknown island of St. Tropez, where he enjoyed life on the water and painting what inspired him.

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