Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange was born in 1877; into a family in which the women had been artists and costume designers, the men architects and draftsmen. She began in the decorative arts herself then, after her marriage to Selmersheim was terminated (she retained the name), she met Paul Signac and became his life partner. Although she had had considerable training already, it was Signac who became her teacher, and her art is very close to his. She exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon des Indépendants beginning in 1909.
To fully understand the period in which Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange lived, one must have known and loved the area around St. Tropez – the relaxed atmosphere, the intense light, the brilliant earthen colors, dark tree silhouettes, azure seas. All life was conditioned around the sea, the beautiful Mediterranean.
Signac, as much a sailor as a painter, while cruising off the coast of Southern France in 1892, discovered St. Tropez and installed himself and his mistress, Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange in a small house there – “La Hune” – to which he always returned and which was always home to him. Le Jardin was likely painted at their home, and reveals a remarkable talent for things of beauty – flowers, sunlight imbued colors, soft shady nooks, and symmetry of space prominent in this old seaport village.
Jeanne Selmersheim-Desgrange was first and always French, able to abandon with order, license and restraint. Her name has graced many watercolors and paintings of great sensitivity and unquestioned personality.
The union of Jeanne and Paul Signac brought together two sensitive artists. They never married but of this union, Paul Signac’s only child, Ginette, was born. She also followed the painter’s path.
Jeanne’s direct talent as an artist may be seen in the distinctive arrangement of her brilliant flower pieces, landscapes and still life paintings. Some of her work, full of truculence, should be valued on account of its sincerity and a certain unrestrained quality of exhuberance that it shows. It can almost be said that her paintings sing. Her watercolors and oil paintings are full of rare and delicate colors, orange, yellow, rose, light blue and green. But she also uses greys, which make for glistening opalescent nuances. All of her work suggests a melancholy and tenderness which is filled with lyrical poetry.
Throughout her association with Signac, Jeanne was happy and most contented to stay in the shadows of “her great master.” Of a very loving and considerate nature, she did not wish to take advantage of the great name she served. Her own work is filled with, and reflects this generous lady’s true feminine sensitivity.
She died in 1958 at “La Hune” a house filled with the memories of a great period in art.
Her work was included in the exhibition entitled Neo-Impressionism at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1968.