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A lucky Watercolour by Paul Signac

This watercolour is more than 100 years old, but still retains its bright, fresh colours.

Watercolour by Paul Signac

Paul Signac (1863-1935), View of the Harbour in Boulogne-sur-Mer, 1903

An old piece in great shape
More than 100 years have passed since View of the Harbour in Boulogne-sur-Mer was painted, but despite its advanced years the drawing remains fresh and bright. The small masterpiece is very well-preserved compared to other watercolours from the same period. By retracing the history of the work and by looking at it through the eyes of a conservator, we have discovered why the work is still in such fine condition.

History of the work – its provenance
The Gallery records state that the work was bequeathed to The National Gallery of Denmark in 1976 in the will of art collector Herbert Melbye. He bought it at the Galerie Léon Marseille in Paris in 1950. The work has, then, only had two owners since 1950 (Melbye and the Gallery). Before 1950 the watercolour was presumably kept in the artist’s own sketch portfolio or in a drawer at the artist’s heirs.

Paper quality is crucial
In View of the Harbour in Boulogne-sur-Mer you will see that the pigments have lost none of their intensity and that the paper is only very slightly yellowed. This means that the work has mainly been stored away from sunlight or electric light since its creation in 1903. It has also escaped professional framing; earlier kinds of framing have been particularly harmful to less lucky works because the cardboard backs contain acids that break down the original paper.

A work of Unique National Importance
The allocation of State funding for the preservation of works of Unique National Importance has allowed the Gallery to carry out more intensive work within preventive conservation. Thus, Paul Signac’s watercolour continues its charmed existence by being among the masterpieces mounted in acid-free passe-partouts. With this protection, the colours and original paper of View of the Harbour in Boulogne-sur-Mer will be kept fresh and vibrant for many generations to come.

Written by
Anja Scocozza
B.Sc. in paper conservation

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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