Arts & Culture

New exhibition open at MMFA: Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opens exhibit of works by the artists of the Salon des Indépendants.
Paul Signac (1863-1935), Juan-les-Pins. Soir (first version), 1914, oil on canvas. Private collection. Photo by Maurice Aeschimann

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) invites visitors on a journey to the artistic effervescence of France at the turn of the 20th century with its exhibition Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism: Signac and the Indépendants. Through more than 500 works from an outstanding private collection, including the largest set of works by Paul Signac, attendees will discover a magnificent body of paintings and graphic works by Signac and avant-garde artists: Impressionists (Degas, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro), Fauves (Dufy, Friesz, Marquet, Vlaminck), Symbolists (Gauguin, Redon), Nabis (Bonnard, Denis, Lacombe, Sérusier, Ranson, Vallotton), observers of life in Paris (Anquetin, Ibels, Steinlen, Toulouse-Lautrec), Cubists (Picasso, Braque), Expressionists (Feininger, Heckel), and above all, the Neo-Impressionists (Angrand, Cross, Hayet, Lemmen, Luce, Seurat, Van Rysselberghe).

Visitors will learn about the social and pictorial issues of the era and what prompted a group of artists led by Signac to create the “Salon des Indépendants” in 1884, which promoted the democratic ideal of an exhibition with “neither jury, nor award.” Art, they believed, should be accessible to all and could contribute to the common good. From its inauguration in 1884 to the First World War, the Salon des Indépendants served as a platform for major art-historical developments of the time including: Neo-Impressionism, the Nabis movement, Symbolism, Fauvism and Cubism. The exhibition situates the Indépendants in the socio-cultural and political context of Paris during the Belle Époque.

Léon Pourtau (1872-1898), Beach Scene, about 1890-93,oil on canvas. Private collection.

Co-founder of the Salon des Indépendants, Paul Signac (1863-1935) made a name for himself as the theoretician of the so-called “postimpressionist scientists.” Inspired by the chromatic theories of Charles Henry, Ogden Rood and Michel-Eugène Chevreul, he applied pure colour to the canvas in tightly placed dots, such that the form would emerge from the optical blending in the viewer’s eye. With his “divisionist” technique, he sought to create total art somewhere between the paradise lost of the golden age and social utopia. Signac championed positivist painting, which promoted technical and political modernity. The new pointillist style of his “Neo” peers spread quickly from Paris to Brussels, glorifying the better days to come.

Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator of the MMFA, explains: “More than a showcase of the Salon des Indépendants, this exhibition celebrates the spirit of independence: the creative freedom of artists, experimentation with techniques, the audacity of caricatures, the desire for women’s emancipation, popular revolt in a time of anarchy, art displayed everywhere in the streets for everyone, seashores bathed in sunlight, and unfettered imagination. This Montreal exclusive brings together a magnificent oeuvre of avant-garde paintings and graphic works from the Belle Époque.”

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923), The Street (poster) (La Rue), 1896, colour lithograph. Private collection

In addition to the more than 500 works from the private collection, two rare pieces have been loaned to the Museum from the archives of Paul Signac’s descendants. One is the portrait Paul Signac as a Yachtsman (1896) by Theo Van Rysselberghe (1862-1926), and the other is a sketch for In the Time of Harmony (1893) by Paul Signac that will enable the public to learn more about this masterpiece, which cannot be transported owing to its size.

The exhibition is open from July 4 through November 15, 2020. It is important to note that visitors must purchase their tickets online by selecting the date and time of their visit. Visit the online ticket office at : mbam.qc.ca/en/ticket-office/

Achille Laugé (1861-1944), The Flowering Tree, 1893, oil on canvas. Private collection

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