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Paul Sérusier

French Painter

Paul Sérusier Photo
Movements and Styles: Post-Impressionism, Les Nabis, Symbolism

Born: November 9, 1864 - Paris, France

Died: October 7, 1927 - Morlaix, France

"Art is a means of communication between souls."

Paul Sérusier Signature

Summary of Paul Sérusier

Born in Paris, Paul Sérusier studied at the Académie Julian, an alternative to the elite and conservative École des Beaux-Arts. During his training, he visited the artist colony established in Pont-Aven, where he met a group of Symbolists. Working closely with his friends, Paul Gauguin, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard, Sérusier employed bold colors and flattened forms to illustrate his thoughts on the canvas. Seeking liberation from the strictures of classical painting and the recent Impressionist movement, Sérusier was a pioneer of Post-Impressionism, eventually founding the group Les Nabis, named after the Hebrew word for "prophet."

As the leader of the Nabis, Sérusier sought to paint what he felt as well as what he saw. He also sought unity between decoration and fine art, as did the Arts and Crafts movement in England. Many of Sérusier's paintings were meant to fit in seamlessly with their surroundings, to be as aesthetically pleasing as they were intellectually stimulating. Advancing toward abstraction, Sérusier helped to usher in a new era in artistic innovation, pushing painting away from representation to focus on sensation and evocation. Beginning in 1908, his influence was broadened as an instructor at the École Ranson, founded by fellow Nabi Paul Ranson, where students were encouraged to embrace the expressive and evocative potentials of abstraction. The École Ranson was a popular training ground for modernist painters until World War II.

Key Ideas

Moving away from the concept of art as imitation of the visible world, Sérusier introduced more conceptual and evocative elements into his painting, especially in the dissolution of forms and his use of non-descriptive color. Thought was paramount to his work and he placed it above representation: if he perceived the sky to be yellow, he painted it as yellow and not blue.
Sérusier strove to synthesize three key elements within his works: the appearance of the natural world, the sensation that it gave him, and the form in which he chose to represent it. In balancing these three elements, Sérusier also focused on flattening the shapes and forms in his works. Continuing what Manet had done before him, Sérusier emphasized the two-dimensionality of painting through the use of strong lines and bright colors.
Sérusier's abstraction of forms in the pursuit of translating emotion and perception onto the canvas not only distinguished him from previous artists but also inspired others. Historians, and his contemporaries, date the beginning of the Nabi movement with Sérusier's work, The Talisman. His experimentation inspired new levels of abstraction in his paintings and those of his colleagues, contributing to the development of artists transferring their emotions onto their creations.
Sérusier encouraged greater experiments towards abstraction in an attempt to "free form and color from their traditional descriptive functions in order to express personal emotions and spiritual truths." This guiding principle of sensation through color was an astounding innovation that resonated with future generations of colorists, including Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko, and Josef Albers.

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