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The Beach at Saint-Briac

Painting, 1890, 65×81 cm
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Description of the artwork «The Beach at Saint-Briac»

Paul Signac painted The Beach at Saint-Briac in the days when he was a determined propagator of pointillism. In 1884, Signac met the creator of the pointillist method Georges Seurat and was fascinated by the unconventional technique of making a painted image with thousands of dots of unmixed colors optically fusing into complex blends of tones. Only a year after the picture was painted, Seurat would die and Signac would forever be disappointed in pointillism (to be exact, in the use of small dots).

‘The horror I have more and more of the little dot and the hatred of dryness’ — that is what he wrote of how he then felt. He never since painted with dots, but still, he did not cut all ties with scientific theories of colour. There was only one thing that changed in his method: instead of dots, he began using discrete, contrasting brushstrokes (1, 2, 3).

In his later pictures, the painter moved away from the realistic palette and used bright colors instead (an example, The Pine Tree at Saint-Tropez, you can see in this room). But The Beach at Saint-Briac was still as realistic as possible. The sand is yellow, the sky and sea are blue, and the flora, too, is of its proper colors and hues. But the landscape itself is far from being monumental as it was typical of pointillist paintings. It is not at all static.

Signac was passionate about sailing. In the course of his lifetime, he had 32 yachts. He purchased his first yacht in 1883 and called it Manet — Zola — Wagner. It is clear that, besides visual arts, he was fond of literature and music. His love of the latter made him give his pictures musical names: Adagio, Larghetto, Scherzo. The subtitle of The Beach at Saint-Briac is musical, too: Opus 212. Along with other paintings, it became a part of the suite The Sea, which was shown in Paris at the Salon des Indépendants in 1891.

The French writer Paul Vaillant-Couturier wrote that Signac was fond of art, humanity, and the sea. He was emotional and sociable, spontaneous in character and in laying paints onto the canvas. As he put it, he never pursued the task of implementing the dry theory of color combinations, but his work reflected the spiritual impulses and emotions he wanted to express.

Signac never rejected completely the chromatic layering theory. However, The Beach at Saint-Briac never lacks atmosphere and spirit. It gives a sensation of boiling midday and the cool of the sea. Even the thorn in the foreground, though serving to balance and deepen the composition, is as poetic as the thistle can be.

Author: Natalia Azarenko
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Landscape

Style of art: Post-Impressionism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1890

Size: 65×81 cm

Artwork in selections: 11 selections

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