Paul Signac
(Paris, 1863-1935, Paris)
The Milliners, 1885/86
Oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm
Signed & dated lower right: P. Signac 85
Cachin 111
The Modistes – or milliners – by Paul Signac is of special significance in the history of French Impressionism. Signac first presented the painting in the eighth and last exhibition, which the Impressionists held in spring 1886. There it was hung in a separate room, which was described in the programme as the hall of the "neo-Impressionists". This expressed the view of a group of younger artists that the Impressionism of the early days had been superseded. The technique with which the neo-Impressionist works were painted immediately caused a sensation. Countless tiny dots of paint were painstakingly applied next to one another, earning it the name 'Pointillism', after the points of colour. The painter Georges Seurat, who had developed the technique, actually called it 'Divisionism', in keeping with the scientific and objective principles that informed it. Whereas the Impressionists had recorded the chance arrangement of changing situations, the neo-Impressionists returned to painting carefully structured compositions. A good example of this is the varying brightness of the wallpaper in Signac's Milliners. The base colour contrasts with that of the pattern and causes the figure seated behind the table to stand out in her dark clothes. Producing paintings of this kind evidently involved a great deal of effort, and in the first years of neo-Impressionism, only a few such works were completed. So Emil Bührle can be considered very fortunate in managing to acquire one of them for his collection.