It was in 1880, visiting an exhibition by Claude Monet, when the then 16-year-old Paul Signac decided to devote his life to painting. His surroundings – growing up on Rue Frochot in Montmartre, with its numerous art galleries, artist’s studios and art supply stores – undoubtedly also had an impact on the young man’s decision to leave school behind and immerse himself in the artistic and literary circles of Paris.
During the same year, Signac lost his father. His mother sold the family business and moved with her teenage son and father-in-law to the north-western residential suburb of Asnières, into a house with a garden, overlooking the Seine. Financially independent, the young man was able to afford renting a room in Montmartre and divide his time between homely Asnières and the vibrant capital.
Except for a few months at the “open studio” of Émile Bin, Signac never received formal art instruction; instead he preferred studying the works of Monet, Manet, Degas and Caillebotte in the galleries of Paris. At sixteen he was thrown out of an exhibition by none other than Paul Gauguin with the words: “One does not copy here, Sir!”
Signac worshipped his independence and trained himself, sketching and painting on the banks of the Seine at Asnières and in Normandy, where he usually spent his summers.
Strongly influenced by his hero Monet, Signac’s early landscapes, dated between 1882 and 1885 are painted in Impressionist style. “This consisted of piling up reds, greens and blues and yellows, in a rather careless way but with great enthusiasm” he wryly recalled. Nevertheless, these early paintings already showed characteristics that would mark Signac’s entire oeuvre: his fondness for colour and his masterful depiction of light.
La Fête d’Asnières is a luxuriant example of Signac’s early phase of painting. Executed in 1884, when the artist was 21, it marks a key point in his career: Signac personally met Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), who’s painting style he admired. 1884 was also the year of his first major exhibition: the first Salon des Indépendants, where he encountered Georges Seurat, who would become his lifelong friend and inspiration.
In La Fête d’Asnières Signac introduces the luminescent colour palette that he is so adored for in his later Neo-Impressionist works. The application of small dabs of colour, especially in the areas that compose the sun-drenched sandy ground and the lavender shadows of the tents, foreshadows the Divisionist technique that he later adopts in collaboration with Seurat.
The painting carries an inscription by the artist in the lower left corner that dedicates the work to the writer Paul Adam (1862-1920), a literary Symbolist, whom Signac regularly met at the literary soirées at the Brasserie Gambrinus. These gatherings also included – among others – the art critics Gustave Kahn and Felix Féneon, who later became enthusiastic supporters of the Neo-Impressionist movement. Signac, by the way, had literary ambitions himself and in 1882 contributed two of his literary pieces to the Journal Chat Noir.
The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Marina Ferretti Bocquillon.
A 2003 letter from the late Françoise Cachin, the granddaughter of the artist, and founding director of the Musée d’Orsay, confirms that the present work will be included in the forthcoming volume of the Paul Signac catalogue raisonné under no. 62bis.