Littered with objects floating in space with no points of reference, the painting Tetrahedrons by Paul Sérusier is part of a series of mysterious paintings that bring Symbolism into the realms of Abstraction.
Something mystic is at work in this piece, which reflects the interest of the “Nabi with a shining beard” in the esotericism of colours and shapes. However, geometry remains above all a tool to render aesthetic needs in Sérusier’s work, in line with his philosophical continuity rather than based on a formal model.
This painting was produced around 1910, when Sérusier was teaching at the Académie Ranson (1908 to 1912). Indeed, his teachings, published in 1921 under the title The ABCs of painting, include a section on numbers and proportions that illustrates the inherent concept of Tetrahedrons which was to reformulate the close connections betweens human beings and the cosmos through Symbolist figuration.
Tetrahedrons, Golden Cylinder (Musée des Beaux-arts de Rennes) and Origins (private collection) form a unique set in Sérusier’s body of work.
During a rare public appearance in 1947 for the Palais Galliera retrospective, these three works were displayed as a triptych on the theme of the origins of life and the universe. Yet Tetrahedrons remains the most abstract of the three.
Unlike Golden Cylinder or Origins which preserve a sense of space in which a horizon can still be seen, the depth in Tetrahedrons is barely pronounced by an atmospheric perspective.
This painting emphasises Sérusier’s constant pictorial experiments in the use of abstract forms, long after Gauguin’s lessons at the Bois d’Amour and the Talisman of 1888.
It embodies a crucial yet little-known milestone in pictorial experimentation as it shifted to the abstract representation of shapes, thus providing a different interpretation of the history of art in the early 20th century.