Studio of the artist (until the late 1920s)
Gerald Corcoran, London (by 1949)
Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney (acquired from the above on February 25, 1949)
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Signac, 1953, no. 43 (titled The Yawl)
Huntington, Long Island, Heckscher Museum, A Tribute to Whitney Griswold, From the Collections of Yale Alumni of Long Island, 1963 (titled The Yawl)
Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1983, no. 39
Signac was well known among his contemporaries as an avid sailor, and often hosted friends such as Luce, Signac, Valtat, van Rysselberghe, Cross, and the writer Felix Fénéon on excursions along the Seine and the Mediterranean coast. In 1896, van Rysselberghe painted a portrait of Signac seated at the stern of his sailboat, hand on the tiller, calmly staring ahead as he steers the boat.
In the present work, painted in 1887 during Signac’s summer in the Mediterranean port town of Collioure, the stern of the Mohamed-El-Sadok and the surrounding sea are viewed from Signac’s customary position at the wheel of the boat (see Figure 1). Sunlight streams down on the jib, which casts stark shadows on the deck. The glare of the strong midday sun reflected on the water is replicated in the short brushstrokes of bright paint in the sea and sky. The luminous strokes draw the eye to the strong contrasts of light and shadow on the boat.
This loosely-painted composition contrasts with Signac’s other works from that summer in Collioure. Rather than depict the sailboat within the context of the shoreline, he draws the viewer into the boat itself by boldly cropping the vessel across its center. As John Leighton noted of Signac’s seascapes from that summer, “The individual elements of the stretch of shoreline are closely observed, from the light sparkling on the water to the playing-card forms of the interlocking buildings. As the paintings progressed, however, it seems that the qualities of direct sensation and observation were gradually subjected to a more unifying vision. The first layers of freely worked paint were systematically overlaid with smaller touches, while the stronger color contrasts, such as Signac’s trademark combination of orange and blue, were worked through with flurries of white and pale-colored dots” (Marina Ferretti-Bocquillon, Anne Distel, John Leighton and Susan Alyson Stein, Signac: 1863-1935, New York, 2001, p. 11).
Fig. 1, Pierre Bonnard, Signac sur son bateau, 1924-25, Kunsthaus Zurich.
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