EMILE BERNARD (1868-1941)
EMILE BERNARD (1868-1941)
EMILE BERNARD (1868-1941)
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EMILE BERNARD (1868-1941)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Roger Sant Collection
EMILE BERNARD (1868-1941)

Bretonnerie (Bretonnes dans une prairie)

Details
EMILE BERNARD (1868-1941)
Bretonnerie (Bretonnes dans une prairie)
signed and dated 'Emile Bernard 1892' (lower left)
oil on card laid down on board
33 x 45 1/2 in. (84 x 115.5 cm.)
Painted in 1892
Provenance
Ambroise Vollard (probably acquired from the artist, 22 May 1901, until July 1939).
Emile Bernard, Paris (by 1941).
Clément Altarriba (Galerie Altarriba), Paris (by descent from the above, until at least 1955).
Leon and Vivian Mnuchin, New York (by 1956).
Paul and Ellen Josefowitz, London (by 1982).
Samuel Josefowitz, Lausanne (probably acquired from the above, by 1994).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 4 September 2006.
Literature
J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1956, p. 479.
J.-J. Luthi, Emile Bernard: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, Paris, 1982, p. 52, no. 339 (illustrated, p. 53; with incorrect support).
J.-J. Luthi and A. Israël, Emile Bernard: Sa vie, son œuvre, catalogue raisonné, Paris, 2014, p. 190, no. 307 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
(possibly) Paris, Pavillon de la Ville de Paris, Société des artistes indépendants, VIIIe exposition, March-April 1892.
(possibly) Paris, Petit Palais, Les maîtres de l'art indépendant, 1895-1937, June-October 1937, no. 1.
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Eugène Carrière et le symbolisme, December 1949-January 1950, p. 102, no. 215.
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Bonnard, Vuillard et les Nabis, 1888-1903, June-October 1955, p. 42, no. 50 (with inverted dimensions).
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Emile Bernard at Pont-Aven, February-March 1957, no. 19 (with incorrect support).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Emile Bernard: Epoque de Pont-Aven, April-May 1959, no. 39 (titled Bretonnes assises dans l'herbe).
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée du Prieuré, L'éclatement de l'Impressionnisme, October 1982-March 1983, p. 95, no. 40 (titled Bretonnerie avec panier de pommes).
Mannheim, Städtische Kunsthalle and Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Emile Bernard: A Pioneer of Modern Art, May-November 1990, p. 156, no. 30 (illustrated in color).
Indianapolis Museum of Art; Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and San Diego Museum of Art, Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven, September 1994-September 1996, p. 76, no. 48 (illustrated in color).
Special notice

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Post lot text
Béatrice Recchi-Altarriba has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of 20th Century Evening Sale, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art

Lot Essay

In the late 1880s, the avant-garde painter Emile Bernard developed a fascination with the rural landscape of Brittany in northwestern France. The humble inhabitants of that region are the subject of his bold 1892 canvas, Bretonnerie (Bretonnes dans une prairie). In the foreground, a mother sits on a grassy knoll with a young boy sprawled alongside her; she leans her chin wearily in one hand and hugs her bent knees with the other. Between mother and son lies a woven basket filled with golden-yellow apples. A trio of women sit in the background, leaning towards one another, whispering to each other in confidence. The scene is one of calm, reflective repose, relishing the beauty and simplicity of Breton life.
The subjects of Bernard’s Bretonnerie (Bretonnes dans une prairie) are dressed in conservative traditional garb—starched cotton bonnets known as coiffes and sober long-sleeved frocks with aprons; yet the composition is animated by its vibrant color palette and broad vertical brushstrokes. Bernard has rendered these dresses in a characteristically rich, jewel-toned hues: the indigo and emerald of the Breton costumes form a cool contrast with the warm terracotta of the earth and the marigold of the harvested fruit. Bernard also employed thin black lines to emphasize the contours of the figures, rather than their facial or anatomical details; they appear as flat, anonymous silhouettes set against a compressed background of grass and dirt.
Radical simplification was Bernard’s guiding principle in this pivotal phase of his career; as the painter once explained, “The first means that I use is to simplify nature to an extreme point. I reduce the lines only to the main contrasts and I reduce the colors to the seven fundamental colors of the prism” (quoted in C. Spretnak, The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 42). Later, he reflected upon his desire to extract—and express in paint—only the most essential qualities of human life and the natural landscape: “I would dream of creating a hieratic style looking beyond modernity and present day reality for its methods and inspiration. I needed to go back to the Primitives: adopt a very abbreviated technique, use line solely in order to determine form and color, sole to determine each state. In a word, what I wanted to do was create a style for our age” (quoted in R.T. Clement, A. Houzé and C. Erbolato-Ramsey, A Sourcebook of Gauguin's Symbolist Followers, Westport, 2004, p. 159).
Bernard’s sources of inspiration for this new approach to modern art were indeed varied. Writing the French Symbolist magazine La Revue Indépendante, the art critic Charles Dujardin coined the term Cloisonnisme to describe Bernard’s style—a reference to the medieval craft of stained glass, inserted into a compositional framework of thick metal. The flat planes of color in Japanese woodcuts were also important to Bernard’s practice; he had studied these examples of these prints in the Parisian shop of the famed dealer, Père Tanguy, in 1887, together with his friend and colleague Vincent van Gogh.
Bernard’s formal experimentation—as well as his interest in rural Breton subjects—was further advanced in August 1888. He spent several weeks working in collaboration with the artist Paul Gauguin in Pont-Aven, Brittany, observing the deep piety and distinctive folk traditions of the region. Together, Bernard and Gauguin also explored a “Synthetist” style of painting, which Gauguin described as a “synthesis of a form and a color” (quoted in ibid., p. 5). Bernard and Gauguin galvanized one another during this halcyon summer; in tandem, they produced two of their most famous canvases, which would ultimately come to define the so-called Pont-Aven school: Bernard’s Les Bretonnes dans la prairie (Le Pardon) (Luthi and Israël, no. 115; Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and Gauguin’s Vision après le sermon (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh).
By 1891, however, the friendship and professional collaboration between Bernard and Gauguin had fractured; critics like Albert Aurier hailed Gauguin as the primary founder of this stylistic movement—to the jealous frustration of then-twenty-three-year-old Bernard, who was nearly half Gauguin’s age. Though he grew increasingly disillusioned with the Parisian art world, Bernard submitted his work to several major avant-garde exhibitions, including the Salon des Indépendants in 1892—the same year he painted Bretonnerie (Bretonnes dans une prairie). Soon thereafter, however, Bernard left France entirely. He spent the next decade living in a self-imposed exile in Cairo, where he turned his attention to painting Egyptian subjects and religious decorative commissions. The present painting, so evocative of Bernard’s youthful ambition and his productivity in Pont-Aven, likely remained in France; it was eventually acquired by the modern art dealer Ambroise Vollard around the turn of the twentieth century, before re-entering the collection of the artist by 1941.

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