“It would not be a commonplace portrait at all, but a carefully composed picture, with very carefully arranged colors and lines. A rhythmic and angular pose. A decorative Félix, entering with his hat or a flower in his hand.” With these words, in 1890, Paul Signac described to Félix Fénéon the extraordinary portrait he was dedicating to him. In it, Signac paid homage to Fénéon’s distinctive appearance, his generous but enigmatic personality, and his innovative approach to modernism.
This painting, a masterpiece in the Museum’s collection, will be the centerpiece of Félix Fénéon, the first exhibition dedicated to Fénéon (1861–1944). An art critic, editor, publisher, dealer, collector, and anarchist, Fénéon had a wide-ranging influence on the development of modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the late 1880s, he played a key role in defining the new movement known as Neo-Impressionism, a term he coined himself, whose artists, including Signac, used tiny dabs of color that would mix in the eye of the viewer. Over the next five decades, he championed the careers of artists from Georges-Pierre Seurat and Signac to Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, and Amedeo Modigliani. He amassed a renowned collection of paintings by these artists and many others, and he was also a pioneering collector of art from Africa and Oceania.
The exhibition will feature some 160 objects, including major works that Fénéon admired, championed, and collected, as well as contemporary photographs, letters, and publications that trace key chapters in his biography. Together these works reveal the profound and lasting legacy of Fénéon’s keen eye and bold, forward-looking vision.
Organized by Starr Figura, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Isabelle Cahn, Chief Curator, Musée d’Orsay; and Philippe Peltier, former Head, Océania and Insulindia Unit, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac; with Anna Blaha, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.