Oil on canvas: 86,5 x 66 cm;
signed and datable to 1893
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In the same year the artist made a tapestry of the same subject using only the two left figures. This was illustrated in: J-J.Luthi, “Émile Bernard en Orient et chez Paul Cézanne”, p.17 with ill, and in J-J.Luthi, “Emile Bernard – l’initiateur”, Paris, ill. after p.46 and exhibited in Paris, Fondation Mona Bismarck, “Emile Bernard, retrospective”, 1991, cat.no.29, with ill.
The composition and technique of this work are still under the influence of the period Bernard spent in Pont-Aven, he had just left there when he painted this.
In the history of French painting, Emile Bernard occupies a unique place. He has been greatly underrated until recently, when art lovers began to realise his true importance. The diversity of his talents is most striking; he created paintings, drawings, water colours, etchings, wood-cuts and tapestries with wonderful spontaneity.
He also wrote poetry, books and articles on art.
Bernard rebelled against Impressionism and proposed Cloisonnism, (the use of heavily-edged, flat colours, which characterises the work of the Pont-Aven group) as an alternative technique, and Symbolism as an alternative theme.
He also finalised a “very colourful and personal over-simplification” which was later to be known as Synthetisme.
To further the development of these new ideas he founded the School of Pont-Aven, which is one of the most audacious artistic revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Emile Bernard, like many reformers, did not foresee the full extent of his initiative; in particular, his Cloisonnism laid down the principle of pure colour, which 15 years later was to be so exploited by the Fauves. Bernard was the leader of the avant-garde movement in painting, and was one of the first to proclaim the genius of Cézanne and Van Gogh.
In many ways he strongly influenced Gauguin, and this is a much debated point in the artistic history of Bernard. In 1888 Bernard and Gauguin were at Pont-Aven where they worked together, and Gauguin found under Bernard’s influence not only the confirmation of many of his own imprecise ideas, but also the means to express them, and his work then took a decisive direction. This, however, in no way diminishes the genius of Gauguin or the greatness of his work, which to a certain extent, obscured the significant role which Emile Bernard played. It is hoped that this exhibition will help to put Emile Bernard’s contribution to modern painting in its true perspective.