Brief Report

In the early years of the twentieth century Paul Signac visited some of Europe’s major ports, including Marseille, Venice, Rotterdam, London, La Rochelle, and, in 1907, Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. While there, he assembled his pictorial impressions in drawings and watercolours, some of which he later transferred to canvas in the studio, using his divisionist technique. The painting discussed here bears the title ‘Stamboul, Yeni Djami’, which together with his signature and the date 1909 he inscribed on the reverse of the stretcher. It was painted on the basis of a watercolour study which already depicts precisely the motif of the picture (fig. 13). Signac executed his painting on a commercially available canvas with a cream-white ground in the standard landscape format ‘Figure 25’, which, according to a label verso, he bought from the art supplies shop Lucien Lefebvre-Foinet in Paris (fig. 2). In order to lend his depiction the greatest-possible luminescence, he added a pure white ground, a measure he had already recommended in his treatise ‘D’Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionisme’: ‘It is curious to note how, even in the smallest details of their techniques, the Neo-Impressionists have put Delacroix‘s advice into practice. For instance, they only paint on white grounds so that the light will reflect through the colours, giving them more brilliance and life.’ (Vitaglione 1985, p. T18; Signac 1899, p. 18; fig. 9). Part of the scene, such as the mosque and the sailing boat on the left-hand edge, and the rowing boat in the foreground, were drawn by the artist on the ground in pencil along with the line of the horizon (figs. 7, 8). The subsequent paint application, using the Divisionist technique, follows this underdrawing exactly; no further changes were made to the composition. With a regular rhythm, the individual colour strokes are placed next to each other, only partly overlapping, leaving gaps through which the white ground and also sections of the underdrawing remain visible. The direction of application of the impasto colour strokes – which, in line with the Neo-Impressionist colour theory were blended only with white and with the neighbouring colours in the spectrum – follows the motif in question (fig. 10). Fortunately the painting has never been varnished and thus retains the authentic matt surface character as intended by the artist.

Paul Signac
Constantinople. Yeni Djami, 1909, oil on canvas, 66.0 x 81.5 cm, Kunstsammlung NRW, WRM Dep. 970

Paul Signac

born on 11 November 1863 in Paris,
died on 15 August 1935 ibidem

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Further illustrations:

Fig. 02

Verso with dealer's label

Fig. 03

Raking light

Fig. 04

Transmitted light

Fig. 05

UV fluorescence

Fig. 06

Infrared reflectogram

Fig. 07

Detail in UV (top) and incident light (bottom) with white paint applications of varying UV fluorescence, which indicate the use of two different white pigments, presumably lead white and zinc white

Fig. 08

Detail of mosque, pencil underdrawing

Fig. 09

Detail of top edge, pure white ground application over the off-white ground applied by the manufacturer

Fig. 10

Details of the sky (top) and surface of the water (bottom), with different orientation of application and in places blending of the paints on the canvas itself

Fig. 11

Details of the four corners of the picture with holes that suggest an interim fixing of the canvas

Fig. 12

Detail of signature and date

Fig. 13

Paul Signac, Constantinople. Yeni Djami, c. 1909, watercolour, pencil and Indian ink, on paper, 20.8 x 25.7 cm (private collection)