signed P. Signac and dated 1899 (lower right); signed P. Signac, dated 1899 and titled on the stretcher
oil on canvas
Hermann Prächter, Germany (acquired from the artist)
Baroness von Bodenhausen, Berlin
Dr Keichel, Dusseldorf
Otto Förster, Cologne (1950)
Willy Schniewind, Neviges (acquired in 1950)
Private Collection, Europe (by descent from the above. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 5th February 2008, lot 29)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Dusseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Paul Signac, 1952, no. 9
Wolfsburg, Stadthalle, Peintures françaises de Delacroix à Picasso, 1961, no. 143
Recklinghausen, Kunsthalle, Kunstwerke aus drei Jahrtausenden, Gesammelt im Ruhrgebiet, 1963, no. 202, illustrated in the catalogue
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Signac, 1963-64, no. 56, illustrated in the catalogue
Recklinghausen, Städtische Kunsthalle, Zauber des Lichtes, 1967, no. 180, illustrated in the catalogue
The Artist's Handlist (Cahier d'opus), listed as La Terrasse de Meudon
The Artist's Handlist (Cahier manuscrit), listed as Terrasse de Meudon
Gaston Lévy, 'Pré-catalogue', circa 1932, illustrated p. 278
Pierre Cabanne, Les Arts, 18th-24th December 1963, no. 56, illustrated p. 12
Sophie Monneret, L'Impressionnisme et son époque. Dictionnaire international, Paris, 1980, vol. II, mentioned p. 257
Signac et la libération de la couleur (exhibition catalogue), Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster, 1996-97, p. 67
Françoise Cachin, Signac. Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, Paris, 2000, no. 327, illustrated p. 238
Terrasse de Meudon is a dazzling example of Signac's mature Pointillist compositions. The freshest tones of his palette are applied to a sweeping landscape encompassing the Seine valley and the city of Paris. The en plein air discipline practised by his Impressionist contemporaries became progressively less relevant for Signac during the 1890s, his compositions demanded longer periods of reflection and dedication as the scale and complexity of his paintings grew (figs. 1 & 2). He himself in early 1899 wrote that 'it is always the same lesson, you derive a number of components of you composition from nature, but then treat them as you please' (quoted in A Feast of Colour: Post-Impressionists from private collections (exhibition catalogue), Noordbrabants Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch, 1990, p. 198). It was in his studio that he would create his panoramic views, shimmering with life and filled with succinct details such as the recently erected Eiffel Tower seen in the distant background of the present work. Signac used the high vantage point of a terrace in Meudon, a suburb of Paris located just southwest from the city centre. Meudon's town hall sits high above the French capital, and the nearby observatory from which Signac painted this composition offers some fascinating views of Paris and its surrounding area. At the centre of the composition one can see the town's modern viaduct, with its row of vertical arches that reiterate forms of the tree trunks in the foreground. Viaducts and bridges were recurrent architectural features in Signac's landscapes as symbols of the development of modern life.
Discussing the Post-Impressionist artists and the development of Pointillism John Rewald stressed the role of van Gogh, and in particular his relationship with Signac: 'Though van Gogh did not join the small group gathered around Seurat, there can be no doubt he profited greatly from his contact with Signac. He must have been impressed by Signac's frankness, his great abilities, and the powerful concentration with which he applied himself to his work' (J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism. From van Gogh to Gauguin, London, 1978, p. 55). The artistic benefits of this close relationship can be discerned in the heightened expressive qualities with which Signac imbued his mature canvases. The vibrancy he achieved in the present work owes something to van Gogh's energetic technique; however it was Signac's use of colour and staccato brushstrokes that made a lasting impression on van Gogh's work.
In 1899, the same year Signac completed the present work, he published a book on the subject of modern painting: D'Eugène Delacroix au Néo-Impressionnisme, in which he expounded upon the 'optical mixing' of colours and other chromatic principles that defined the aesthetic agenda of the Neo-Impressionist movement. The critic Félix Fénéon remarked that Signac's work was especially dramatic because 'the colours wildly climb to new heights, they exult, they shout!' (F. Fénéon quoted in Marina Ferretti-Bocquillon, Signac Watercolours, Paris, 2001, p. 47). He praised these artists for creating 'the very sensation of life: objective reality is for them simply the theme for the creating of a superior and sublime reality in which their personality is transfused' (F. Fénéon, 'Définition du Néo-Impressionnisme', in L'Art Moderne, Paris, 1st May 1887, pp. 90-95).
By the turn of the century Signac was a much admired figure amongst the avant-garde. As president of the Salon des Artistes Indépendants he influenced a whole generation of painters including the Fauves, who admired the artist's bold colouration and dazzling brushwork. The Fauves formed their own striking styles inspired by elements of Pointillism which is evident in works by Braque (fig. 3) and Derain. His influence stretched across Europe to Germany and Austria. In 1900 he was invited to exhibit at the VIth Secession alongside Klimt , upon whom he has been ascribed a degree of stylistic influence. John Collins, discussing Klimt's work states: 'The Pointillists advocated the use of pure colour. "The enemy of all painting is grey! Ban all earthy colours!" wrote Signac in D'Eugène Delacroix au Néo-Impressionisme in 1899. With its vibrant, subjective interpretation of colour and shadowless view through the trees, Pear Trees [fig. 4] closely adheres to Signac's rhetorical programme for painting' (J. Collins, Gustav Klimt: Modernism in the Making (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2001, p. 103).
Paul Signac's outstanding contribution to modern art is exemplified by Terrasse de Meudon. The masterful composition depicts not only the changing landscape of fin-de-siecle Paris but the transformations brought by Signac's aesthetic. In his theoretical writings he openly declared his belief in the revelatory purposes of his aesthetic: 'And if there has not yet appeared among them the artist who, by his genius, will be able to exploit [the Neo-Impressionists'] technique to the full, they will at least have helped to simplify his task. This triumphant colorist has only to show himself: his palette has been prepared for him' (quoted in Floyd Ratliff, Paul Signac and Color in Neo-Impressionism, New York, 1996, p. 285).
Fig. 1, Paul Signac, Saint-Tropez. La Terrasse, 1898, oil on canvas, The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Fig. 2, Paul Signac, Pont de Grenelle, 1899, oil on canvas, Amos Andersonin Taideomuseo, Helsinki
Fig. 3, Georges Braque, L'Oliveraie, 1907, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 8th February 2012
Fig. 4, Gustav Klimt, Birnbaum, 1903, oil and casein on canvas, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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