Born into an affluent Versailles family, Georges Lacombe'’ eary artistic interests were nurtured by his mother, a keen painter, draughtswoman and etcher. He received his artistic training at the Académie Julian, where his meeting with Emile Bernand and Paul Sérusier in 1892 was to define his early artistic career. He eagerly adopted their lesson learned from Paul Gauguin based on the Talisman (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), Serusier's experimental painting of 1888, 'that instead of copying nature as one perceived it, one should represent it, transmute it into a play of vivid colours, emphasizing simple, expressive, original arabesques for the pleasure of the eye' (J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1956, p. 275).
Lacombe's enthusiasm for Sérusier's doctrine of synthétisme led to his affiliation with the Nabis, whose influence informed the artist's choice of subject matter, composition, style and technique in Les trois Bigoudènes dans la forêt. Dated to 1894-1895, shortly after his first meeting with Paul Gauguin, the present work is daring in its use of bold, simplified colours, its abstraction of the landscape, accentuated by a flat composition with strong contours, and recalls Gauguin's and Sérusier's work of that period. His use of tempera resonates with the Nabis' rejection of the glossy finishes favoured by Salon painters at that time.
The twenty-year old Lacombe became so enamoured with the Breton culture after his first summer spent in Camaret in 1888, that he returned annually over the next ten years. The Breton way of life became an important source of artistic inspiration, as its unspoilt, timeless tranquility appealed to Lacombe and his confrères. Lacombe celebrates the beauty and simplicity of Breton life in the present work where three Breton women wearing traditional headdress kneel side by side in a dark mysterious landscape. This would be a theme to which he would frequently return not only in his paintings but also in carved wood, his accomplishments in this latter medium earning him the reputation in the group as the Nabi-sculpteur.