Monday, February 10, 2014

Bernard, Emile

Still Life with Flowers
oil on canvas
50.2 x 61.0 cm
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA, USA

In 1886 Bernard became friends with Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh and began studying the paintings of Cezanne. Bernard conceived this still life in the synthesist style he developed with Gauguin.

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.