Signac, the Collector: Now Showing at the Musée d’Orsay

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Signac, the Collector: Now Showing at the Musée d’Orsay
The exhibition “Signac the Collector,” at the Musée d’Orsay until February 13th, gives a unique view of the art world in Paris from the 1880s to the 1930s. The 150 or so paintings on display all come from the private collection of Paul Signac, the artist, art historian and curator whose commitment to art began at the age of 16 and lasted the whole of his life. The pictures he chose for his own collection form a series of snapshots of this key period, beginning with the new excitements of Impressionism and continuing through to the more radical Pointillism and the work of the Fauvists, or “wild beasts,” whose use of vivid, flashing colors and flattened images paved the way for modernism. Paul Signac, “Femmes au puits.” Signac was so moved when he saw Claude Monet’s work at an exhibition in 1880 that he abandoned his studies at the age of 16 and decided to become a painter. He had already been teaching himself to paint, observing the work of others closely and practicing by making copies of works he admired. At the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in 1879, this got him into trouble; the artist Gauguin threw him out, saying, “We do not allow copying here, Sir.” It was a work by Degas that he wanted to reproduce and so it’s interesting to note that early in this exhibition of pieces Signac owned are two Degas pictures of dancers, “Deux danseuses en maillot” (1892) in charcoal and “Danseuse s’habillant,” in pastels (undated). Paul Signac’s interest in collecting art began in his early 20s when he bought his first painting, Cézanne’s “La plaine de Saint-Ouen l’Aumone,” of a rural landscape to the northwest of Paris, which has a prominent place in the exhibition. With its outdoor subject, broad brushstrokes and nuanced depiction of light against the trees, landscape, clouds and sky, this painting from 1880 shows Signac’s interest in Impressionism. Paul Cézanne, “La plaine de Saint-Ouen l’Aumone.” Photographed at the exhibition by Marian Jones Other early purchases include several works by Pissarro, such as paintings of paysans (country folk) including “Paysanne Assise,” showing a young woman sitting alone to rest, and “Paysans, retour du marché,” of a group returning from market. Neither attempts an accurate depiction of the subject, both seek rather to portray an impression of the moment. Camille Pissarro, “Paysans, retour du marché”. Photographed at the exhibition by Marian Jones
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Lead photo credit : Paris Musee d'Orsay. Credit © Flickr, Herbert Frank

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.