The Malraux museum in the Le Havre region of France is showing a major exhibition of 90 watercolours by the French artist Paul Signac (Paris 1863 – Paris 1935).
An enthusiast of the sea and of the mediterranean coast with its ports, Signac sailed from Bretagne to St. Tropez during the year of 1832, soon after the decease of this artist friend Georges Seurat, with whom he created the neo-impressionism movement and the start of the divisionism or pointillism. In Saint-Tropez he starts painting with watercolour, together with the French pointillist painter d’Henri-Edmond Cross, soon concluding that drawing and watercolour will permit him a free and spontaneous artistic creation.
In 1928, an encounter with Gaston Lévy, a wealthy man, founder of the Monoprix deparment stores and an avid collector, will permit him to initiate a project dear to him.
Signac states his ideas in detail to his new friend: « Depuis longtemps je rêve de faire une suite importante d’aquarelles sur « Les Ports de France ». J’ai relevé 40 ports de la Manche, 40 ports de l’Océan ; 20 ports de la Méditerranée. En tout une centaine (…). Si ce projet avait votre agrément, je commanderais une conduite intérieure C4 Citroën, je prendrais un chauffeur et je partirais en février pour les ports de la Méditerranée. En avril, je remonterais vers les ports de l’Océan pour terminer en été les ports du Nord. Je pense qu’il faudrait 5 ou 6 mois de travail, un peu fou ! Je ferais deux aquarelles dans chaque port, l’une pour vous et l’autre pour moi, différentes d’ailleurs, et vous choisiriez celle des deux qui aurait votre préférence. Nous déciderions ensemble du format et du prix. Les marchands n’auraient rien à y voir ! »
In english: «For some time now I have been dreaming of painting a major series of watercolors on French ports . I have identified 40 ports on the North Sea, 40 on the Ocean; 20 on the Mediterranean. In total, one hundred». He suggests that Lévy sponsor this operation, and the precision of his letter proves it was far from being improvised. «If this project were to meet your approval, I would order a sedan C4 Citroën, I would hire a chauffeur and I would leave in February to Mediterranean ports. In April I would go up to the Ocean ports to finish with the Northern ports in the summer. I think it will take me 5 to 6 months of work, a bit crazy! I will do two watercolors in each port, one for you and the other for me, different ones of course, and you will choose the one you prefer of the two. We will decide together on the price and the format. Art dealers would have nothing to do with this!»
Seduced by this project, Gaston Lévy accepts to sponsor it, and in March 1929 the renowned and famous Signac at the age of 65, casts away, completing his periplus in 1931.
This artistic undertaking will become the acclaim of his career as a watercolourist.
A rare exhibition "Signac: Les Ports de France" (Signac: The Ports of France), is a poetic catalogue of French coast before the Second World War, never before published and now shown to the public for the first time.
The 90 known watercolours of this series are presented in perspective with a selection of paintings by the artist witnessing his profound bonding to the sea and the ports, as well a couple of works by artists who Paul Signac particularly admired: Le Lorrain, Joseph Vernet, Corot, Jongkind, Boudin… Paintings from the neo-impressionism and impressionism periods, and from the opening at the time of his settlement in Saint-Tropez in 1892.
Firstly the exhibition was to be on display only until January 16, 2011, then until the 23, but it seems to have been extended until the end of the month. For more information you can contact the Malraux museum through the contacts found on this page.
The Art Inquirer used the French to English translation of Signac's explanation to Gaston available on this page.