Searching for a pure style of painting in a reaction against Naturalism, and also against Impressionism and the dissolution of forms, Emile Bernard experimented with new ways of expressing space and contours. This painting actually has a note on the back: "First attempt at Synthetism and Simplification 1887".
In its composition and the choice of fruits and objects, Bernard reveals, in this painting, his admiration for Cezanne, whose works he had seen in Père Tanguy's shop. However, Pots de grès et pommes also takes account of the artist's own experiments in simplifying and strictly dividing up the different areas of colour that he outlines in black. Depth is created by the shadows and the three successive, horizontal bands of colour, in the centre of which stand fruits and pots which are given shape through colour and texture.
It was probably this picture, painted in Asnières, along with various studies that Van Gogh saw before he left for Arles. While he himself was working on a still life in August 1888, Van Gogh wrote to Bernard saying that he was impressed by the "unknown quality of deliberateness, of great wisdom, that inexpressible quality of being steady and firm and self-assured". He even added "You have never been closer to Rembrandt, old fellow."
A few months after finishing these Pots de grès et pommes, Bernard met Gauguin at Pont-Aven. The collaboration between these two men was a defining factor in developing Synthetist and Cloisonnist techniques. In 1889, Bernard took part in the exhibition organised by Gauguin and his friends at the Café Volpini within the Universal Exhibition, where the new aesthetic, advocated by the Pont-Aven group, was revealed.