Paul Sérusier
Portrait of Paul Ranson in Nabi costume

Portrait de Paul Ranson en tenue nabique [Portrait of Paul Ranson in Nabi costume]
Paul Sérusier (1863-1927)
Portrait de Paul Ranson en tenue nabique [Portrait of Paul Ranson in Nabi costume]
1890
Oil on canvas
H. 61; W. 46.5 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Portrait de Paul Ranson en tenue nabique [Portrait of Paul Ranson in Nabi costume]


We know of very few portraits by Sérusier, who specialised more in producing scenes of rural life in a synthesist or cloisonnist style. So this painting is quite unusual, as much for its rarity in the painter's oeuvre, as for its symbolic representation of the life of the Nabis.  

Paul Ranson (1861-1909), who was part of the Nabi group from the time it was set up by Sérusier in 1888, is portrayed here in a sort of ceremonial costume. Easily recognised by his goatee and lorgnon, he is busy deciphering the mysterious characters of a large manuscript. This is a clear example of the esotericism favoured by certain Nabis, including Sérusier and Ranson. Moreover, the group used to meet for ceremonies bordering on the occult in Ranson's studio, nicknamed "The Temple". Did they wear this type of garment there? There is no evidence for this.
The many symbols on Ranson's costume reveal Sérusier's interest in the occult. They include a five-pointed star decorating the crosier. This "pentogram" could represent the mind or the head dominating the four limbs.
However, let us not forget that the Nabis meetings at the "Temple" often turned from fun into farce. Although Sérusier's painting, and particularly his later work, was heavily imbued with esotericism, this painting must also be read in the light of the pranks, frequently indulged in by this group of young artists.


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