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Gasometers at Clichy

Paul Signac1886

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria

From the outset, Signac's landscapes depicted semi-industrial subjects — a choice that followed naturally from his family's move to Asnieres in 1880. The unimposing urban scene depicted in this painting was also only a short distance from the working-class leisure island of Grande-Jatte, the setting for Seurat's enormous and best-known canvas, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande –Jatte (Art Institute of Chicago), which had also been exhibited in the final Impressionist exhibition of 1886.

The contradiction inherent in Signac's luminous depiction of a decidedly grubby subject was remarked upon by Felix Fendon, a firm supporter of the artist's work, in an influential review in La Vogue:

Paul Signac is drawn to suburban landscapes, which he interprets in an individual and penetrating manner. The works that date from this very year are painted according to divisions of tone; they achieve a frenetic intensity of light: Gasometers at Clichy with its work pants and jackets drying on fence palings, its desolate peeling walls, its burned-brown grass and incandescent roofs beneath a blinding sky, gains momentum as the eye rises, and loses itself in an abyss of blinding blue' (Felix Feneon, 'Les Impressionnistes', La Vogue, 13-20 June 1886).

Signac's paintings of industrial views have often been equated with his support of anarchist and socialist politics. The subversive nature of his urban landscapes lies in the manner in which they depict the polluted locales of working-class outer Paris, that were seldom visited by wealthy Parisian socialites.

Text by Dr Ted Gott from The Allure of Light, Turner to Cézanne: European Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Victoria, Christchurch Art Gallery, Christchurch, 2003, p. 32.

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Details

  • Title: Gasometers at Clichy
  • Creator: Paul Signac
  • Date Created: 1886
  • Provenance: Artist's studio; then to art market, Hamburg, 1920s; with Galerie Goldschmidt (dealer), Berlin, 1927; with Bernheim-Jeune (dealer), Paris; with Gaston Levy (dealer), Paris, 1928; with Wildenstein & Co. (dealer), London, by 1937; exhibited Seurat and his contemporaries, Wildenstein & Co., London, , 1937 no. 82 (owner Wildenstein & Co.); sold to Arthur Tooth & Sons (dealer), London, by 1943; exhibited The Spirit of France, Glasgow Art Gallery and Museums, 1943, no. 31 (owner Arthur Tooth & Sons); purchased for the Felton Bequest under schedule on the advice of A.J.L. McDonnell, 1947.
  • Physical Dimensions: w810 x h650 cm (Unframed)
  • Non-English title: Les Gasomètres, Clichy
  • Additional information: This painting was first exhibited at 1 Rue Laffitte, Paris, an elegantly appointed suite of five rooms above the chic Maison Dor & restaurant, in the eighth and last group showing of the Impressionists. It was Paul Signac's friendship with Camille Pissarro, whom he had met in 1885, that led to his inclusion in this prestigious event. Pissarro, one of the show's principal organisers, was keen to add new blood to the original Impressionist group, in the form of younger artists who were building upon the founding principles of Impressionism. The Neo-Impressionist or Divisionist painting (as it came to be known) of the young Georges Seurat and Paul Signac met with some resistance from the older Impressionists, however. As a result the works of Signac, Seurat, Camille Pissarro (who had himself adopted the Divisionist manner of painting in 1886) and his son Lucien Pissarro were displayed together in a separate room of the exhibition. Georges Seurat's scientific theories of colour division abandoned the harmonious blending of tones favoured by Impressionism, in favour of placing strong, opposing blocks of colour side by side. These would blend optically and create light, it was argued, when the viewer stood at a certain distance from a painting. Gasometers at Clichy is one of the first works painted by Signac according to these Neo-Impressionist principles.
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1948, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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