0044 Paul Signac's Decorative Propaganda of the 1890s

  • Katherine Brion (Author)
    University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

    Katherine Brion is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Art at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is currently completing a dissertation on late nineteenth-century French decorative painting, under the direction of Howard Lay. Entitled “Decorative Visions: Shaping the Viewer in Fin-de-Siècle France,” it examines decorative theory and practice in relation to the work of artists such as Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Jules Chéret, Paul Signac, Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard. Ms. Brion has received several fellowships and awards in support of her work, including a Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship, a Georges Lurcy Foundation Fellowship for Study in France, a Getty Research Institute Library Grant, and a Susan Lipschutz Award. Beginning this Fall 2012, she is an Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, where she will develop an exhibition on late-nineteenth-century print culture and decorative aesthetics, as well as assist in the implementation of the museum’s new Design Gallery.

Identifiers (Article)


In the 1890s the political and artistic ambitions of the neo-impressionist artist Paul Signac were embodied by a series of decorative projects. This article contends that Signac, inspired by anarcho-communist discourse and the prospect of revolution, attempted to synthesize in these works the didactic logic of propaganda and "purely aesthetic emotion." This synthesis was epitomized by the explicit deployment of two systems, divisionism and decorative pattern. With these systems, Signac hoped to initiate contemporary viewers into the aesthetic and social harmony of an anarcho-communist future. In the interest of addressing larger audiences, particularly among workers, he imagined proletarian spaces for his work. But the didactic elements of Signac's painting met with critical resistance, and public sites he envisioned never materialized. Faced with this lack of recognition, and with a diminished revolutionary outlook in the wake of the Procès des Trente, Signac focused his painting on atemporal landscapes. This trajectory has been read as one of aesthetic liberation; this article seeks to retrieve the extent to which it was also one of constraint, tied to the frustration of Signac's political aspirations.


anarcho-communism, neo-impressionism, Paul Signac, decorative painting, propaganda, landscape, aesthetics, politics, terrorism, education, emotion, reason