Breton Women at a Wall

Emile Bernard (French, 1868-1941)

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Working together in a remote village in western France during late summer 1888, Paul Gauguin and the inventive young painter Emile Bernard developed the bold new style now identified with the School of Pont-Aven.

Liberated from standard rules of color, scale and perspective, Bernard chose vivid hues and dynamic patterns based on his imagination rather than strict observation of nature.

The women's head coverings, or coiffes, are part of the traditional Pont-Aven dress that the visiting artists found so picturesque.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

The inventive young painter Emile Bernard met Paul Gauguin at the Breton artists' colony of Pont-Aven in August 1888. Together they forged an aesthetic based on the belief that artists should interpret nature according to their imaginations. Emphasizing the expressive potential of color, line, and pattern that became hallmarks of the Pont-Aven School, they created dynamic works distinguished by at forms, rolling contours, and brilliant hues.

This canvas, which Bernard painted from memory in Paris in 1892, is one of his most ambitious compositions. The Breton man and women are boldly flattened, reflecting the artist's attraction to the stylized figures of Japanese prints. Bernard's use of dark outlines accentuates their two-dimensionality and enhances the surface pattern. Further, the placement of the figures reveals Bernard's willingness to defy traditional rules of scale and perspective. The powerful colors are chosen for effect rather than accuracy, and even their distribution-as indicated by the arbitrary change from green to golden orange in the painting's upper register, bows to the artist's judgment. Like Gauguin, Bernard cherished Brittany and its people, from the lace collars and coifs of their costumes to the stone walls that wind through the countryside. While his imagination was clearly red by their way of life, Bernard offered few clues about the meaning of this vibrant scene.

Young Bernard is here and has brought some interesting things with him. . . . He is one person who is not afraid to try anything.
-Paul Gauguin, 1888

Possibly Comte Antoine de La Rochefoucauld [1862-1959], Paris, patron and friend to Bernard's circle.{1} To Clément Altarriba, son-in-law of the artist, Paris, by 1949;{2} sold via (Wildenstein, Paris) to Nina Sussman, New York;{3} purchased from her in 1959 by Samuel Josefowitz;{4} acquired as a partial gift, partial purchase by the IMA in 1998 (1998.172).

{1} La Rochefoucauld was acquainted with Bernard by 1892 as a fellow exhibitor and financial backer of the first Salon de la Rose + Croix, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris. He may have acquired this painting out of the 1893 exhibition of Brittany paintings at Pére Tanguy's.
{2} See the exhibition catalogue, Eugène Carrière et le Symbolisme, Orangerie des Tuileries, December 1949-January 1950, cat. no. 214 where he is listed as the owner.
{3} A note on the bill of sale indicates that the painting was acquired by Sussman through an agent for Wildenstein on consignment from Altarriba.
{4} See Josefowitz inventory card, copy in IMA Provenance file (1998.172).

Object Information

Emile Bernard (French, 1868-1941)
creation date
oil on cardboard
32-7/8 x 45-1/2 in. (board)
42-3/4 x 55-1/4 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed and Dated in lower left: Emile | BERNARD 1892
accession number
credit line
Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-Aven, through the generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and other Friends of the Museum
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture 1800-1945

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