Points of View

Artist Paul Signac steps out of the shadow of his celebrated colleague, pointillist Georges Seurat, to star in a new exhibition at the Met

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The French painter Paul Signac would spend many years of his long, prolific career preaching, practicing and elaborating the theories of art that he and his friend and mentor Georges Seurat had championed together before the latter's death in 1891. He became known, in fact, as Seurat's Saint Paul.

According to Susan Alyson Stein, associate curator of European paintings at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, scholars have looked on Seurat as the genius and Signac as the promoter. "In Pointillism," she says, "there was Seurat and that other guy, Signac." On view at the Met from October 9 through December 30, "Signac 1863-1935: Master Neo-Impressionist"—the first major retrospective of Signac's work in nearly 40 years—brings the artist out of the shadows and into the spotlight, firmly establishing him as a major artist in his own right.

A master of luminous seascapes, Signac also created a handful of astounding portraits and an impressive oeuvre of watercolors, drawings and prints. Though he subjected his oil paintings to the rigors of his scientific theories of color, rendering them in a profusion of small strokes or "dots"—and later mosaic-like squares—of color, he turned out scores of more loosely painted watercolors in bursts of freedom. Younger artists such as Henri Matisse came to him to study color and light, and traces of Signac's ideas turn up throughout modern art.

Gregarious and energetic, Signac was a leader of artists, a tireless organizer of exhibitions, a fencer, an anarchist and a passionate sailor. In May 1892 he sailed his yacht Olympia into the picturesque harbor of Saint-Tropez on France's Côte d'Azur. "There is enough material to work on for the rest of my days," he wrote his mother. "Happiness—that is what I have just discovered." He would spend the last four decades of his life seeking to achieve in his work "the most harmonious, the most luminous and the most colorful result."

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