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Émile Henri Bernard

French Painter, Engraver, Poet, Writer, and Art Critic

Émile Henri Bernard Photo

Born: April 28, 1868 - Lille, France

Died: April 16, 1941 - Paris, France

Summary of Émile Henri Bernard

Émile Bernard's most formative artistic years were spent in the city of Paris where the Impressionist style had arisen and dominated the avant garde scene into the 1880s. He immersed himself in the arts, attending exhibitions and visiting galleries and studying at the École des Arts Décoratifs beginning in 1884. He also trained at the well-respected Atelier Cormon, the studio of the artist and teacher, Fernand Cormon. There he met Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, with him he formed a lasting friendship. Eventually, he was dismissed for "insubordinate behavior" and thus the radical young artist struck out on his own.

Bernard's close friendships with Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, two of the most influential artists of the Post-Impressionist period, proved fruitful in many ways, not least of which was the trio's intense co-experimentation; frequently, the produced works in identical themes and also made portraits of one another. Bernard maintained an extensive personal correspondence with Van Gogh and the letters they exchanged provide a unique window into the relationship. It is said that he was the first person to become aware of the importance of Van Gogh's work. Interestingly, Van Gogh's criticism of his work, particularly the biblical themes, prompted Bernard to end the correspondence. In the late 1880s, Bernard developed his unique Cloisonnist and Synthetist styles, which were extraordinarily influential for artists such as Gauguin, Anquetin, and Sérusier.

Key Ideas

While technically not a member of the group, Bernard identified with the philosophical and mystical underpinnings of Symbolism both in art and literature, particularly with the poetry and ideas of Baudelaire and Mallarmé. His paintings and prints often feature Christian motifs. In numerous articles, letters, and statements, he described the symbolism in his work as a kind of "divine language."
Some of Bernard's most important writings are his observations on what he regarded as the avant garde's counter-productive, wholesale rejection of pictorial tradition. His critiques of modernist art mirror the transformation in his own style from his radical, anti-conventional Cloisonnism to the regressive, nostalgic realism of his late career.
Bernard is regarded as a critical force in the development of modern art, particularly in terms of promoting increased abstraction. While his post-1900s art reflects a pronounced rejection of abstraction and return to mid-1900s realism, the two styles for which he is best known, Cloisonnism and Synthetism, were markedly innovative and anti-traditional in their emphasis on flatness, outlining, and use of emotionally expressive, non-naturalistic color.
Bernard was to play another critical role in the life of Van Gogh when, following the suicide of Vincent and the death of Theo Van Gogh shortly after, he was appointed administrator of Van Gogh's affairs, including arranging for a posthumous exhibition and editing Van Gogh's letters.

Émile Henri Bernard Artist Overview Page

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