Painted in 1901, Paul Signac's Samois, La Berge, matin featured the following year in an exhibition of Neo-Impressionist works at the Berlin gallery of Paul Cassirer - this was one of the first times that the works of the artists associated with the movement had been shown in Germany. Samois, La Berge, matin would subsequently feature in several other early German exhibitions of Neo-Impressionism; it was later purchased by Dr Karl Bett of Berlin, an eminent collector of the pictures of Henri Matisse amongst others, and remained in his family for several decades.
Looking at Samois, La Berge, matin, it is clear why this picture was selected to be showcased to the German public: it is filled with a subtle, shimmering sense of light that perfectly translates the atmosphere of the morning indicated by its title. Crucially, Samois, La Berge, matin also reveals the effort that such a rendering of morning light involved in Signac's landscapes: the entire surface vibrates due to the artist's virtuoso use of his Pointillist techniques. The whole picture has been created from dabs of paint in different colours, each judiciously placed next to the other in order to convey a sense of the haze of the scene while also lending it a palpable sense of light. This is only accentuated by the impasto that has resulted and which articulates the surface still further.
By the time he painted Samois, La Berge, matin, Signac was the most eminent of the Neo-Impressionists, as the other great pioneer of the movement, Georges Seurat, had died a decade earlier. It was Seurat who had introduced Signac to the potential of Divisionism; together they had worked in order to formulate a new system of capturing the sights of the world around them that put to use the increasing understanding both of colour theory and of how sight itself worked. Accordingly, Signac encouraged Seurat to abandon earth colours, which have likewise been banished from Samois, La Berge, matin, resulting in its almost powdery, harmonious appearance. The juxtaposition of each colour has been painstakingly considered; this meticulousness would come to make Signac's works increasingly rare, as his rigours in creating them meant that he spent a great deal of time on each one. Indeed, aside from oil studies, the catalogue raisonné of Signac's works lists only eleven paintings aside from Samois, La Berge, matin from 1901; of these, five are in museum collections, a mark of their importance.
While Signac was clearly still rigorous in his application of paint to the picture surface, by the time he created Samois, La Berge, matin, his 'dots' had expanded, becoming freer and therefore lending his works an appearance of vibrant spontaneity that is at odds with the technique that he was using. This was a process that would continue over the coming decades, as his brushstrokes became larger; they nonetheless functioned as tesserae in the larger mosaic of the composition, as is clearly the case in Samois, La Berge, matin.
In order to paint in this manner, Signac was open about the need for a studio. He abandoned the pleinairisme of his Impressionist predecessors, with whom he had in fact exhibited in that movement's last show. Instead, he would sketch in situ before revisiting his subject matter in the more suitable confines of his studio. Indeed, in 1901, he expanded his studio at La Hune, his villa at Saint-Tropez in order to be able to work more easily there. As he wrote in his diary two years before he painted Samois, La Berge, matin, 'In my opinion, with the exception of a rapid piece of information that memory or a Kodak could provide just as well, an artist's work must be a creation. And can a painter not create something at his table or easel, just as well as under a bridge or on a road?' (Signac, quoted in C. Harrison, P. Wood & J. Gaiger, ed., Art in Theory 1815-1900: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford, 1998, p. 977). Some of the motifs that Signac painted in 1901 may have derived from sketches that he created during the previous years, when he is known to have visited Samois-sur-Seine; he would also return there on later occasions. Indeed, a group of oil studies of Samois dating from 1899 exists, four of which are in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, one of which relates directly to a larger, finished painting from 1901, Samois, Lumière de soir, also in the same German public collection.
Looking at Samois, La Berge, matin and some of the other pictures from that year, the viewer can almost piece together the jigsaw of views that presented themselves to the artist. The arcing bank which dominates the left-hand portion of the composition in this work - which echoes that of his famous 1887 view of Collioure, now in the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo - is essentially reflected in Samois, Le remorqueur, now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. In that work, the barge of the title adds a rigid sense of modernity to the view with its dramatic diagonal; by contrast, the curve of the bank appears almost baroque, as it does in Samois, La Berge, matin. Indeed, these appear almost to show views from similar spots, perhaps facing in opposite directions; certainly, the landscape in the background is different in each despite having been painted in the same area. By contrast, Samois, Lumière de soir appears to show essentially the same view as Samois, La Berge, matin but with different boats, including a sail to the right, with more activity on the riverside in the form of various labourers. Meanwhile, one wonders if the cluster of buildings on the bank in Samois, La Berge, matin are the same - seen from the opposite direction - as feature in Samois, Brume de matin, also known as Le vapeur <>, now in the Národní Galerie, Prague.