Monday, June 11, 2012

Emile Bernard: He Could Have Been Gauguin

Émile Bernard (1868-1941) strikes me as currently having a reputation in that gray zone between famous and footnote. In part, that might be because most of his noteworthy paintings were done over a comparatively short span of years early in his career. Perhaps a more important reason is that he was soon overshadowed by an artist whose work he influenced, an artist who became famous. Details can be found in this Wikipedia entry.

Bernard was involved in the development of Cloisonnism and Synthetism around the time he was working in Pont-Aven, a coastal town near the western tip of Brittany that was popular with artists. Paul Gauguin, who had decided to become a full-time artist, traveled there to paint and rub elbows with fellow painters while being able to live cheaply. At this time, Gauguin and Bernard painted in a similar style and they later disputed who influenced the other.

However, something noteworthy is that Bernard, by the time he was 20, had formed a philosophy of art that, according to Herbert Read in an essay that can be found here, greatly influenced Gauguin's drift from Impressionism to favor what Bernard had been contending. Now for some irony: While Gauguin followed the Pont-Aven path, Bernard did not; at least that's what the appearance of his later paintings suggests. Well, actually he continued to include some outlining in his images, and use of outlines was a component of the theory he spun when he was young.

Bernard was interested in religion and related issues to the point where his artistic career shifted away from the avant-garde. For example, he lived in Egypt for 10 years starting 1893 and in some respects "went native." After returning to France his career drifted, though he did eventually instruct at the École des Beaux-Arts.

Here are a few examples of his work.


Madeleine au Bois d'Amour - 1888

The Harvest - 1888

Breton Women in the Meadow - 1888
The two paintings immediately above are similar to what Gauguin was painting in Pont-Aven.

The Three Races - 1898
Ten years later, Cloisonnism had been abandoned.

Lady With a Fan (also known by other titles)
This was probably done while in Egypt.

Portrait - c.1928
A touch of 1920s simplified-surfaces modernism at this point in his career.


Hels said...

The Breton Women and The Harvest are indeed very like Gauguin, but you don't think the two artists were in Pont Aven at the same time? So who else might have been the most influential artist?

And what about the paintings that do not appear to be Gauguin-like? Gosh, I love this; thank you!

Donald Pittenger said...

Hels -- They indeed were at Pont-Aven at the same time. For some reason I didn't state that explicitly.