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Emile Bernard
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A Post-Impressionist painter who was an originator of the ground-breaking artistic movements known as Cloisonnism and pictorial Symbolism, Émile Bernard turned away from the avant-garde by the time he was thirty. In his later life he was devoted to the masters of the High Renaissance. An artist of broad-ranging talents, in addition to some 1,550 paintings, Bernard also created prints and decorative works and wrote art criticism, poetry, novels and plays. Born in Lille, after several moves his family relocated to Paris in 1878, and then to its suburbs. Bernard he showed an interest in art at an early age. In 1884, at sixteen years, Bernard entered the studio of Fernand Cormon (1845-1924), over this father’s objection. There he met fellow-students Louis Anquetin (1861-1932) and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), who introduced him to the seedy pleasures of Montmartre. In addition to learning drawing from Cormon, Bernard, experimented with the Impressionist and Pointillist styles. After Cormon expelled him from the studio in early 1886 for insubordination, Bernard set out on a six-month walking tour through Brittany, where he met Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Back in Paris, Bernard left works completed on his tour at the gallery and art-supply shop of Julien-François Tanguy (1825-1894), where he saw works by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), which would have a great influence on Bernard’s work. Sometime that year Bernard met Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). During the next few years, Anquetin and Bernard rejected Impressionism and worked together to develop a new style of painting, using flat areas of color divided by black outlines, reflecting diverse influences, from Cézanne to Japanese woodcuts. They displayed their new works in an 1887 group show with van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, at which Bernard sold his first painting. The next year the writer Edouard Dujardin (1861-1949) called their new style “Cloisonnism,” after cloisonné enamels. Bernard created his first two prints in 1887-88, both zincographs. Bernard spent much of the summer of 1888 in Brittany, including several weeks collaborating with Gauguin in Pont-Aven. Bernard made eight more zincographs over the following winter, Brettoneries, reflecting his time with Gauguin. His nearly sixty prints were all created by 1896. Excluded from the official art exhibition at the 1889 Exhibition Universelle along with Gauguin and others, Bernard (aged twenty-one) participated in the exhibition organized by Gauguin at the nearby Café des Arts, also known as the Café Volpini. Named by Gauguin the “Groupe impressioniste et synthétiste,” the show included more than twenty works by Bernard among its nearly one hundred works. Unfortunately, not one work was sold. Bernard published his first article of art criticism in 1889, followed by articles on van Gogh and Cézanne in 1890 and another article on van Gogh in 1891. After van Gogh’s death in 1890, Bernard helped Theo van Gogh (1820-1888) mount a small exhibition of Vincent’s works. Disputes over who should get the credit for the invention of Cloisonnism and pictorial Symbolism let Bernard to break off his friendship with Gauguin in 1891; Bernard would defend his primacy for the rest of his life. Later than year Bernard exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants and with the Nabis at the Galerie Le Barc de Boutteville. He became more interested in religion during his twenties, and exhibited both Symbolist and religious works at the first Salon de la Rose+Croix in 1892, as well as exhibiting in two Le Barc de Boutteville shows. He also organized a retrospective of van Gogh’s works at that gallery. Then in 1893 Bernard traveled to Cairo by way of Italy, Samos and Constantinople, where he stayed until 1904, with trips to Italy and Spain. As he decorated chapels and painted the street life of Cairo, his style evolved away from the Cloisonnism of his youth towards the realistic styles of the Renaissance. He became politically, religiously and artistically conservative. Back in France, he made his main home in Tonnerre, in Burgundy, although he spent time in Paris as well. He founded and edited a conservative journal, La Rénovation Esthétiquc. Some three-quarters of paintings, his most of book illustrations and much of his art criticism reflected his new outlook. His philosophy was described by the statement placed on his door, “Enter not here all ye who do not believe in God, Raphael and Titian,” Much of his time during his later years was devoted to writing. He died in Paris on April 16, 1941. (TNB 7/2013) Selected bibliography: Rewald, J.: Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1956, 1962, rev. 3/1978. Stevens, MaryAnne, et al. Émile Bernard, 1868-1941: A Pioneer of Modern Art. Exhibition catalog. Manheim: Städtische Kunsthalle; Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum; Zwolle: Waanders Publishers, 1990.