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Paul Signac, The “Ponton de la Félicité” at Asnières (Opus n. 143), 1886.

AMSTERDAM.- The Van Gogh Museum recently purchased a work by Van Gogh’s contemporary Paul Signac (1863-1935), The “Ponton de la Félicité” at Asnières (Opus no. 143), 1886, at the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale held by Christie’s, New York. Signac depicted the banks of the River Seine at Asnières in fresh complementary colours in the then ground-breaking pointillist technique. Georges Seurat was the originator of this innovative method of painting, whereby an image is built up of individual dots and lines applied in unmixed, contrasting colours. Various Neo-Impressionist painters, including Signac, followed Seurat in mastering this technique. 

Vincent van Gogh, who lived in Paris between 1886 and 1888, would have seen this work at the 1887 Salon des Indépendants, then the most important exhibition of modern art in general and Neo-Impressionism in particular. Van Gogh and Signac both painted frequently in Asnières, a town on the outskirts of Paris. The purchase of this work by an influential contemporary of Van Gogh has enhanced the museum’s collection and its ability to show the context in which Van Gogh developed as a painter. Starting on 22 December, this new acquisition will be on display in the permanent collection on the first floor of the Rietveld Building.  

Signac as a great example 
Van Gogh and Signac, who first met in 1887, both went frequently to Asnières to paint on the banks of the Seine. Signac later recalled that he sometimes ran into Van Gogh there. Van Gogh was fascinated by Signac’s free and undogmatic application of the pointillist technique, his use of bright, complementary colours, and his choice of modern subjects. Although Van Gogh made only a few works using a strictly pointillist approach, this manner of painting became the basis of his characteristic style, which features expressive dashes and short lines of pure colour placed next to one another. Van Gogh’s preference for bright, often complementary hues also developed during his Paris period and was likewise strongly influenced by Signac. Signac’s influence is clearly visible in Van Gogh’s Bank of the Seine (1887) and The Bridge at Courbevoie (1887), two works that will be displayed alongside The “Ponton de la Félicité” at Asnières (Opus no. 143). With regard to Signac’s influence on the development of Van Gogh’s work, artist friend Emile Bernard said: “He [Van Gogh] was already in the process of ‘changing his palette’ and, acting on Signac’s advice, was experimenting with a free form of divisionism.” At that time, the term divisionism was used to refer to pointillism. 

The “Ponton de la Félicité” at Asnières (Opus no. 143) 
Signac painted this river view in 1886 on the banks of the Seine near Asnières. This semi-industrialised town on the outskirts of Paris was a popular destination for well-to-do Parisians seeking amusement and relaxation on or near the river. The tension arising from this encounter between industrial development, on the one hand, and the diversions of the richer members of society, on the other, fascinated not only Signac but many other artists as well. From the banks of the Seine, he painted the jetty of ‘La Félicité’, a well-known steamer used for pleasure trips on the river. At the right he depicted a gas silo as a sign of industrialisation. Signac’s satisfaction with the painting is apparent from the fact that he submitted it to the 1887 Salon des Indépendants, where Van Gogh may well have seen it. 

Expansion of the museum’s collection 
The permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum illustrates the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. To give visitors a better understanding of his artistic development, the museum displays not only Van Gogh’s own work, but also works by influential contemporaries, as well as his predecessors and followers. 

In Paris, Van Gogh’s artistic development took off: his use of colour, painting technique and choice of subject matter all changed rapidly. Such artists as Georges Seurat and Camille Pissarro exerted a great influence on Van Gogh, and Paul Signac became one of his guiding lights. 

Until now, the Van Gogh Museum had only one painting by Signac in its collection: Railway Junction near Bois-Colombes (1885-1886). Yet because this work was painted in the Impressionist style, it does not adequately demonstrate the influence of Signac’s work on Van Gogh’s development. The purchase of the canvas The “Ponton de la Félicité” at Asnières (Opus no. 143) means that the museum can now convincingly illustrate Signac’s importance. Starting on 22 December 2016, the painting will be on permanent display in the company of works by Seurat, Pissarro and other contemporaries of Van Gogh on the first floor of the Rietveld Building. 

Social value of our cultural heritage 
The purchase of this important work was made possible by the generous support of the participants of the BankGiro Loterij, the Rembrandt Association (with the additional support of her Claude Monet Fund, Het Liesbeth van Dorp Fonds and Themafonds 19de-eeuwse Schilderkunst), the Mondriaan Fund and the members of The Yellow House (one of the networks of the Friends of the Van Gogh Museum). These benefactors subscribe to the great social value of cultural heritage and seek to further both its preservation and its accessibility to a broad Dutch and international public. The “Ponton de la Félicité” at Asnières (Opus no. 143), the first pointillist painting by Signac in the Van Gogh Museum, fills an important gap in its collection. This acquisition also enriches the group of works by Signac present in Dutch public collections as a whole.