Emile Bernard
Breton Women with Umbrellas

Les bretonnes aux ombrelles
Emile Bernard (1868-1941)
Les bretonnes aux ombrelles
1892
Huile sur toile
H. 85 ; L. 105 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Les bretonnes aux ombrelles [Breton Women with Umbrellas]


The Pont-Aven school brought together a very diverse group of artists who met regularly in this little village in South Finistere from the mid 1880s onwards. After Gauguin, the emblematic figure of the group, left for Tahiti in 1891, Emile Bernard continued to visit Brittany for his research into Synthetism. This region, untouched by industrial development, still lived according to its own traditions. For Bernard, as for Gauguin, it was an oasis of authenticity, and a source of exotic inspiration. In this region, unspoilt and culturally intact, people continued to live, in the eyes of these artists, according to the essential values of humanity.

Here Bernard intentionally excludes all realism from his painting. The scene seems to be divided up rather like stained glass, with flat areas of colour outlined by tracery. Bernard creates formal echoes between the rounded shapes of the umbrellas and the hills in the background, and between the verticals of the trees and the figures of the women on the right. The overall picture, characters and setting, remains abstruse, enabling the artist to remain disengaged from any anecdotal reality. To emphasise the mysteriousness of the subject, Bernard depicts his Breton women in an artificially lit, flattened landscape, very like a theatre set. In this unreal space, the women, whose hieratic poses evoke some of Seurat's characters, watch each other in silence. In this painting, the subject is ultimately less important than the style of painting and the meaning conveyed.




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