Signac painted this sweeping view of the Seine valley from a terrace in the town of Meudon, a suburb of Paris located just 9 kilometres southwest from the city centre. Meudon's town hall sits some 43 metres in altitude above the French capital, and the nearby observatory from which Signac painted this composition offers some fascinating views of Paris and its surrounding area (fig. 1). At the centre of the composition one can see the town's modern viaduct, with its row of vertical arches that reiterate forms of the tree trunks in the foreground. Viaducts (fig. 2) and bridges were recurrent architectural features in Signac's landscapes as symbols of the development of modern life. In the distance, the artist has also included the supreme emblem of modernity and one of the most recent additions to the Parisian cityscape: the Eiffel Tower. This monumental structure had just been completed on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition in 1889, and Signac's inclusion of its unmistakable spire on the horizon shows just how prominent a feature it had become in the greater metropolitan area.
Terrasse de Meudon is one of Signac's dazzling Pointillist compositions, painted during the later years of the Neo-Impressionist movement. The term 'neo-Impressionist' had been coined by the critic Félix Fénéon, who used it in his review of the eighth and final group exhibition of the Impressionists in May 1886. It was at that exhibition that Signac, Georges Seurat and Camille Pissarro débuted a style of painting dependant upon the synthesis of individualised dabs of colour. Fénéon praised these artists for creating 'the very sensation of life: objective reality is for them simply the theme for the creating of a superior and sublime reality in which their personality is transfused' (F. Fénéon, 'Définition du Néo-Impressionnisme' in L'Art Moderne, Paris, 1st May 1887, pp. 90-95).
In years to follow, both Signac and Seurat became the leading protagonists of the 'pointillist' or 'divisionist' techniques, and by the turn of the century, Signac held the distinction of being one of the Neo-Impressionist movement's leading theorists. He wrote extensively on the relationship between colour and the laws of physics, basing his conclusions mostly from Ogden Rood's influential publication on colour theory, Modern Chromatics. In 1899, the same year he completed the present work, he published a book on this subject, D'Eugène Delacroix au Néo-Impressionnisme, in which he expounded upon the 'optical mixing' of colours and other chromatic principles that defined the aesthetic agenda of the Neo-Impressionist movement.
By the time he painted the present work, Signac fully developed his divisionist technique, in which his dabs of paint had become much larger than the more tightly spaced dots of his earlier compositions. The overall chromatic impact of these pictures (fig. 3) is reminiscent of that of a tiled mosaic, and the individualised colour patches held an expressiveness and freedom that would ultimately inspire the Fauves a few years later (fig. 4). Describing a composition painted in St. Tropez around this time, Signac explained how he had become less reliant upon the observation of nature and more inclined to paint from his imagination: 'For this landscape, I act as I would for a large studio painting, fixing in advance my subject and my composition, and then going out to find in nature the necessary information. I am very happy with this method, and I will no longer use any other. In working here [St. Tropez] I see what little importance and what little use that working directly after nature has [...] I am sure that the man who is really strong can make everything come entirely out of his head' (quoted in Neo Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1968, p. 143).
Oil on canvas
Düsseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Paul Signac, 1952, no. 9
Wolfsburg, Stadthalle, Peintures françaises de Delacroix à Picasso, 1961, no. 143
Recklinghausen, Kunsthalle, Kunstwerke aus drei Jahrtausenden, Gesammelt im Ruhrgebiet, 1963, no. 202, illustrated in the catalogue
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Signac, 1963-64, no. 56, illustrated in the catalogue
Recklinghausen, Städtische Kunsthalle, Zauber des Lichtes, 1967, no. 180, illustrated in the catalogue
70 by 89cm. 27 1/2 by 35in.
The Artist's Handlist (Cahier d'opus), listed as La Terrasse de Meudon
The Artist's Handlist (Cahier manuscrit), listed as Terrasse de Meudon
Gaston Lévy, 'Pré-catalogue', circa 1932, illustrated p. 278
Pierre Cabanne, Les Arts, 18th-24th December 1963, no. 56, illustrated p. 12
Sophie Monneret, L'Impressionnisme et son époque. Dictionnaire international, Paris, 1980, vol. II, discussed p. 257
Marina Ferretti-Bocquillon, Signac et la libération de la couleur (exhibition catalogue), Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster, 1996-97, p. 67
Françoise Cachin, Signac. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 2000, no. 327, illustrated p. 238
Hermann Prächter, Germany (acquired from the artist)
Baronne von Bodenhausen
Dr Keichel, Düsseldorf
Otto Förster, Cologne (1950)
Willy Schniewind, Neviges (acquired in 1950)
Thence by descent to the present owner