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Place des Lices, St. Tropez

Paul Signac (French, 11/11/1863–08/15/1935)


Medium oil on canvas Measurements H: 25 3/4 x W: 32 1/4 in. (65.41 x 81.92 cm) Credit Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family Accession Number 66.24.2 Location Gallery 8, Scaife Galleries


Paul Signac's move to the tiny Mediterranean town of St. Tropez in 1892, the year after his friend and mentor Georges Seurat died, was motivated partly by his love of the sea and sailing but mainly by his weariness with the hectic life in Paris and by his desire to modify aspects of Neo-Impressionism. During the early 1890s, Signac began to find the effort of transcribing visual experience with the painstaking pointillist technique increasingly less satisfying. He wrote, "I shall no longer worry about nature. It is very difficult to paint properly from nature, where one is distracted by its harmonies, by the slightest reflection...I attach more and more importance to purity of brushstroke..." Place des Lices, St. Tropez comes from this important transitional period in Signac's art. This painting of majestic trees represents a shift in Signac's choice of motif, a departure from the constant motion of sailboats, clouds, and water to comparative stasis. Signac surely found satisfaction in the strong arabesque lines of the trees in the Place des Lices, and he used their patterns of shadows and filtered light to animate the painting's foreground. The angle of sight, reminiscent of earlier Impressionist vistas through allées of trees, establishes a tunnel-like view into the distance, beyond the shadows of the plaza. A single seated figure sets the painting's tone of tranquil solitude. The painting is filled with obvious but delightful contrasts—for example, between the seven large plane trees in the foreground and the single tiny cypress in the background. It also makes an association between the cypress and the seated man, each of which is a fulcrum for forms balanced on either side.