Emile Bernard
Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour

Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour
Emile Bernard (1868-1941)
Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour
1888
Oil on canvas
H. 1.38; W. 1.63 m
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Madeleine au Bois d'Amour [Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour]


Emile Bernard was only twenty when he painted this life-size portrait of his sister Madeleine, then aged seventeen. He portrayed her lying in the Bois d'Amour on the fringe of the Breton village of Pont-Aven, a wood that Sérusier's Talisman had made famous.

The young woman's body takes up the whole width of the canvas dividing the composition into two parts: a landscape painted in the studio from studies done on the spot, occupying two thirds of the space, and the girl's recumbent figure, also painted in the studio. The two parts coexist without unity despite the studied parallel between Madeleine's posture and the river Aven which flows behind the trees. The light, the brushstrokes and the colours are different. This awkwardness from a highly gifted young painter goes almost unnoticed because of the symbolic nature of the painting. It is not a realistic scene but a portrait with allegorical overtones of the young Madeleine with whom Gauguin had fallen in love. She seems to be absorbed in her reverie, listening to the divine voices of nature.

At this time, Emile Bernard and his sister were very close to the leader of the new "Impressionist and Synthetic" school which had taken up residence in Pont Aven to paint for several months. To get away from the naturalism advocated by the Impressionists of the 1870 generation, he recommended a more detached approach, painting in masses and solid areas of colour. Details, volume and perspective were sacrificed to an overall vision composed in successive planes like Japanese prints.




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