What color is the water in this painting? At first glance the water seems to be a deep, sparkling blue. Upon further examination, it becomes clear that the water in this painting is comprised of a panoply of colors including yellow, fuchsia, and green. The painter, Paul Signac, was one of a handful of artists who pioneered the style of painting now referred to as Neo-Impressionism, meaning new Impressionism.
Signac worked closely with Impressionist painters and even showed his artwork at Impressionist exhibitions. Like his Impressionist contemporaries, Signac embraced modernity and enjoyed painting fleeting moments of city life. Signac was also highly interested in experimenting with paint application and the depiction of light and shadow. Signac took the choppy brushstrokes of the Impressionists one step further and began applying paint on canvas in small, layered dots. This new technique as well as an interest in color theory made the work of Signac and other Neo-Impressionists entirely “new.” Signac explored the science of how color interacts with the human eye. Signac and his peers believed that in order to create, for example, purple, it was unnecessary to mix red and blue paint together before applying it to a canvas. Signac found that if the two colors were applied to a canvas side by side, the colors would vibrate and mix in the viewer’s eye, creating an impression of purple.
Comprising thousands of tiny dots of color, Neo-Impressionist paintings would seem to have the potential to be hectic and disorganized. Signac’s paintings are anything but hectic. Signac masterfully organized tiny dots into shapes and forms. In this painting a woman reaches above her head to draw water from a well. The roundness of her arm and shoulder are magnificently articulated. The compositions of Signac’s paintings are also organized and clearly rendered. The composition of this painting is reminiscent of classical art. This timeless scene is highly organized and balanced. Though much of what Signac did was quite innovative, he was also inspired by art of the past. A microcosm of his time, Signac meshed new ideas with old and succeeded in creating a winning combination.