Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bernard, Emile

Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour
oil on canvas
138 x 163 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

Emile Bernard was only twenty when he painted this life-size portrait of his sister Madeleine, then aged seventeen.
It is not a realistic scene but a portrait with allegorical overtones of the young Madeleine with whom Gauguin had fallen in love. She seems to be absorbed in her reverie, listening to the divine voices of nature.
To get away from the naturalism advocated by the Impressionists of the 1870 generation, at this time, Emile Bernard used a more detached approach, painting in masses and solid areas of color. Details, volume and perspective were sacrificed to an overall vision composed in successive planes like Japanese prints.

Emile Henri Bernard (1868 - 1941) is known as a Post-Impressionist painter and writer. He was the son of a cloth merchant. Relations with his parents were never harmonious, and in 1884, against his father’s wishes, he enrolled as a student at the Atelier Cormon in Paris. There he became a close friend of Toulouse-Lautrec.

Bernard theorized a style of painting with bold forms separated by dark contours which became known as cloisonnism.
His work showed geometric tendencies which hinted at influences of Paul Cezanne, and he collaborated with Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.
In 1892 he organized the first French retrospective of the work of van Gogh, who had died in 1890. His close association with Gauguin had ended bitterly in 1891. Having abandoned plans to travel abroad with Gauguin, Bernard went instead to Italy in 1893 and thence to Egypt, where he lived until 1903, concentrating mainly on painting scenes of street life in Cairo.
On his return to France in 1904 Bernard set up home in Tonnerre. Having already published a selection of his letters from van Gogh in the mid-1890s, he resumed his art historical work: he visited his revered hero Cezanne, by then an old man, in Aix-en-Provence, and their carefully structured conversations and correspondence constitute an important first-hand account of Cezanne’s ideas on art and working methods. In 1905 Bernard founded a new art journal, Renovation Esthetique, which he edited until 1910.

Bernard had a complex and anxious personality, and his stylistic shifts and equivocations have been taken as signs of weakness. After World War I he produced innumerable female portraits and nudes in a slick, highly finished manner that belied his avant-garde origins.