Collection 1880s–1940s

Paul Signac. Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890. 1890 572

Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2" (73.5 x 92.5 cm). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller. © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curator, Starr Figura: Who is this enigmatic, magician-like man in this painting?

Félix Fénéon started his career as an art critic in the 1880s. And he was the first person to recognize and champion a new generation of artists who he called the neo-Impressionists. And one of those artists was Paul Signac.

Fénéon has a very distinctive goatee which was one of his trademarks. He's wearing this very sharp yellow jacket. He was something of a Dandy. And he's also holding out a flower. And the pattern of the petals of that flower evoke the swirling pattern of the background. And so does the way that Fénéon holds it in his fingers. And I think it signals to us how generous he was to the artists and the writers that he supported.

Many of his artist friends including Paul Signac were also anarchists. This was a kind of leftist progressive attitude against government. And so Fénéon and his friends thought that by eliminating the government, there would be greater economic equality and greater creative freedom.

It’s not just a portrait of the person in the painting. It's also in a way a portrait of the relationship between the subject of the painting and the artist. And I think in this case you really feel that sense of admiration and gratitude that Paul Signac feels towards Félix Fénéon.

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