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Paul Signac’s “Vue de Saint-Tropez”

The nearing end of the 19th century is commonly seen by many as a blooming period for art. Many artists were made known by their superb technique, unique approaches, and different styles in the field of music, painting, drawing, sculpture, and architect. This period was also the beginning of a transformation of art from plain ideas into substantial, concrete products. Aside from these, different disciplines evolved and were given recognition by the society even until this day. Paul Victor Jules Signac was one of the artists during that century that gave new meanings to the art that was then common to many.

He was born in Paris and started out as a young architect, but soon turned away and became a painter. His favorite subjects were the coasts of Europe, which he personally accessed by sailing. A lot of his paintings are composed of shores, boats, ports, and seascapes he had seen and visited. One of his famous paintings is the “Vue de Saint Tropez”, a portrait showing the lovely Saint Tropez in a very soothing color palette. This was done during the year 1869. The painting consists of a foreground of a meadow with a huge tree on the very right of the canvass. There are also hints of flowers and tall grasses scattered randomly on the field.

Behind this area, which suggests a place like the top of a hill, lies a number of houses and structures with plants and trees surrounding them. There are prominent figures like tall, triangular trees that rise higher than the chimney and rooftops of the buildings. Still behind is a large body of water, covering a dense region before reaching the mountains at the very background. Clouds are also painted across the sky, varying in shape and sizes. At a viewers glance, one would feel a sense of stillness in the painting. The main reason would be because the subject itself is in a still life form when the image is captured and painted.

The very first impression would be a simple artist’s depiction and rendering of a scene he or she sees and likes. The painter, in this work, presents to the viewer his description of the place Saint Tropez. But this painting is not to be viewed as a stagnant piece, as how would a real landscape be. In a very simple sense, landscapes and seascapes are usually associated with naturalism, as the artist tries to capture the reality of an object in its natural setting. The painting shows an area copied or drawn from the outside world, not like fruits confined in a studio.

There are several elements in the painting that would give way to the real identity and purpose of the artwork. A very important characteristic of the painting is the visible brush strokes used. This is one defining element of an impressionist art. Paul Signac became a prominent figure in the impressionism movement during the 19th century. He and other fellow artists focused on painting subjects taken in their natural environment, such as the place of Saint Tropez. Also, details are not really that fine, and one would even comment that the work was rushed. Movement is also captured in the painting.

When viewed and analyzed, the painting would start to suggest motion, opposing the initial idea that the landscape is stagnant. This is probably due to the thick strokes present all over the work. The flowing symbols of paint create an action that tends to make objects move. The tree’s leaves and branches effectively display swaying and falling. The clouds, too, seem to move together with the wind that causes the motion of the grasses. A closer look would expose hidden events that seem to link different subjects in the painting together in motion. Another factor that would be very impressionist-defining is the effective capture of light.

In this painting, there is a signifier for light, although the source is not explicitly drawn or painted. But it would not take an art critic to conclude that the light comes from a hidden sun. One interesting thing here is the contrasting ideas of the artist’s depiction of light. The whole land and seascapes are in full light, with little shadowing present. The large tree situated on the right suggests a sun present directly above it, probably noon time, because of the large shadow it creates just below it. The whole lighting above, however, strongly opens up a feeling of a sunset as the sky turns yellow.

There are other impressionist painters and artworks present during Signac’s time, but the “Vue de Saint Tropez” became famous because of another style Signac included in it. Claude Monet, the pioneer of impressionist painting, still used academic-style strokes and techniques in painting. Signac, aside from using these, also employed the technique of “pointillism” in his work. Pointillism can be seen as an old technique, used by Australian Aborigines in their native art. The natives use these points and dots mainly as decorations and outlines to their more concrete main subject.

But unlike them, Signac used points to completely produce a shape or image. This is very evident in the “Vue de Saint Tropez”. Aside from these, Signac also used the dots as certain objects themselves. On the tree, different shades of green dots served as leaves while yellow, red, and pink dots were used as flowers in the field. The mountains on the background and the clouds were also outlined with dots. The technique of Pointillism was developed by Signac and very present in many of his works. Even in non-landscape paintings such as human activities and portraits, Signac used the style, spending painstaking hours in dotting the canvass.

But the “Vue de Saint Tropez” stands out because the dots were not that finely defined. The coarse and broad placement of the dots adds to a texture that increases the three-dimensional aspect of the painting. Also, the thick dots, combined with some visible brush strokes, provide additional elements of motion that makes the painting exciting to watch. Aside from the dots, the three-dimensional feeling of painting was made by employing the view-point idea in creating the image. The painting suggests a location where the viewer or the artist stays and looks at the landscape.

In this situation, that place is on one end of the mountains, facing the tree, then the houses, then the sea and finally the mountains. The perspective of the whole painting was achieved by creating a large tree and small houses. This creates a feeling of the tree, and anything close to it, being closer to the viewer than the houses. The same thing can also be said with the clouds. The closest cloud was drawn big, with the subsequent puffs being smaller. The perspective went on two directions, one from the top and another from the bottom, each going to the center as the image portrays a farther location.

The perspective was also helped by the use of lines to draw boundaries for the locations. In the fields, a long curved line that goes diagonally across the canvass signifies the end of the first position and marks the beginning of the area containing the houses. The sea also has a line, this time a horizontal one that stresses the change from water to mountains. Signac, in painting “Vue de Saint Tropez”, predominantly used warm colors. The sky, which occupied almost half of the canvass, was painted with red, orange, and yellow. Also, the bottom part of the painting was filled with red to pinkish elements.

These colors provide a very provoking and warm feeling to me as a viewer, and make the painting very striking. The green tree, on the other hand has a very opposite feeling, something that is cool and calm, although the movement of the leaves suggests an atmosphere opposite calm. However, its location makes weak in neutralizing the warmth given off by the sky and the field. For me, the real focus falls on the mountain way back on the background. First, all elements seem to fall on them. The perspective, both top and bottom wise ends to that range of mountains.

Also, the line symbolizing the end of the sea is very defining, and very contrasting to the curved-nature of the other images in the painting. Finally, the blue color stands out well in the painting, pertaining to a very casual and cold area of mountains. Form-wise, the painting was great. A landscape can be full with many different subjects and objects. But the artist was able to place every single element in a perfect place, capturing the real balance a landscape would have in its natural environment. There were many details to fill up the interest and imagination of a viewer, yet enough space to make it look un-crowded and relaxed.

As a viewer, I see this painting as a well done concoction of different techniques, styles, colors, and meaning. As first, it seems weird to be looking at a painting full of dots. But as one gets engrossed by it, one starts to feel the effort done by the artist in making the painting. This makes me appreciate the artist and his work even more. Also, the artist effectively created a change in focus that makes the art interesting. Although the title only states one location, the artist stresses out the presence of other places that can add to the beauty of Saint Tropez, like the cool, refreshing mountain ranges on the background.

The “Vue de Saint Tropez” is a wonderful work of art because it was able to combine a lot of elements. Not only the images and objects themselves, but even the painting styles, perspective ideas, and focuses. This painting truly shows how different ideas, whether they be clashing, contrasting, or well off together, can be combined into one art capable of exciting a viewer’s inner artsy self. And Paul Signac shows how a single art work can evoke different meanings and feelings at different occasions.

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