Paul SIGNAC | Les Andelys (The riverbank) [Les Andelys (La berge)]

France 1863 – 1935

Les Andelys (The riverbank)
[Les Andelys (La berge)]
oil on canvas
canvas 65.0 (h) x 81.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Accepted in lieu of tax 1996
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Signac entered eighteen works in the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition in May-June 1886, set alongside works by Pissarro and Seurat. Inspired by new ideas in colour theory, these three artists expressed a new interest in the optical mixing of colour, rather than the mixing of colour on the palette. The critic Félix Fénéon was a principal advocate for the art that ventured beyond Impressionism—an art which came to be known as Neo-Impressionism (he actually coined the term ‘néo-impressioniste’ in an article published in L’Art moderne de Bruxelles on 19 September 1886).1 In his writings, Fénéon criticised the earlier Impressionist artists because their work ‘had an appearance of improvisation; their landscapes were views of nature seen at a glance, as if a shutter had been quickly opened and closed; it was hasty and approximate’.2 It was his view that the Impressionists had ‘a propensity for making nature grimace … to prove that the moment was unique and would never be seen again’.3 In comparison, the art of the ‘new’ Impressionists possessed a ‘distance from the accidental and the transitory’.4

From June to September of 1886 Signac lived in the small medieval town of Les Andelys, west of Paris near Giverny, where the Seine flowed through the Normandy countryside to the sea. He delighted in the light, the vibrant colours of the location and its forms—the buildings of the township, the river and its banks, the nearby Château Gaillard and the surrounding farmland. Over the summer months Signac was to paint ten canvases at Les Andelys, using the new method of applying small brushstrokes of unmixed colour. Four of the earliest of these paintings were shown in Paris at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1887, and Fénéon praised them for their luminosity and their completeness: ‘the colours provoke each other to mad chromatic flights—they exult, shout!'5

This painting follows the four works referred to by Fénéon, and combines many of the motifs that Signac found attractive in Les Andelys—the shimmering water reflecting trees on an island, and the dappled hazy summer skies. Signac also featured the red roofs of the riverside houses, the verdant greens of the grassy bank, and the chateau high up in the background, redolent with French history as the castle where Richard the Lionheart once lived. In the mid-ground a tiny figure is seated on a small jetty, and in the foreground is the cropped form of a moored boat. A stillness, a sense of history and timelessness, pervades this composition.

Jane Kinsman

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Quoted in Françoise Cachin, Signac: catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, Paris: Gallimard 2000, p. 352. The term Fénéon had used when reviewing the eighth Impressionist exhibition earlier that year when Signac, Seurat, Camille and Lucien Pissarro had shown their work together, along with Albert Dubois-Pillet, was ‘l’avant-garde de l’impressionisme’.
  2. Quoted in Joan Ungersma Halperin, Félix Fénéon: aesthetic anarchist in fin-de-siècle Paris, New Haven: Yale University Press 1988, p. 99.
  3. Fénéon quoted in Halperin, pp. 99–100.
  4. Quoted in Halperin, p. 100.
  5. Félix Fénéon, ‘Correspondance particulière de’l’art moderne: L’Impressionisme aux Tuileries’, L’Art moderne, Bruxelles, 19 September, pp. 300–02, quoted in Marina Gerretti-Bocquillon, Anne Distel, John Leighton et al., Signac, 1863–1935, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press 2001, cat. 21, p. 121.