This open-air study produced by Paul Sérusier in Pont-Aven , in October 1888 “under the direction of Gauguin”, evidenced by the handwritten inscription on the back of the panel, was instantly raised to iconic status. On his return to the Académie Julian, he presented this ‘synthetic’ landscape with its pure lines and simplified forms to the Nabis (‘prophets’ in Hebrew), who made it their ‘talisman’.
The work joined the collection of Maurice Denis, who contributed to its status as a founding work by recounting the story of its creation in a text published in the magazine L’Occident in 1903:
“How do you see this tree? said Gauguin at the Bois d’Amour: Is it really green? Use green, then, the most beautiful green on your palette. And that shadow, rather blue? Don’t be afraid to paint it as blue as possible”.
Thus was introduced to us for the first time, in a paradoxical and unforgettable form, the fertile concept of a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.
Sérusier’s study was thus placed at the centre of a sort of legend that governs its interpretation: a ‘painting lesson’ given by Paul Gauguin that inspired in the young painter a manifesto of an art that replaced a mimetic approach with the search for a ‘coloured equivalent’. Posterity was to see — in retrospect — in this painting the manifesto of a pure painting, autonomous and abstract.
This exhibition looks back at the history of this iconic work in the Musée d’Orsay collections By drawing on the latest research into this subject, it retraces the context of its creation, its place in Sérusier’s oeuvre, and its relation to that of his Nabis comrades. It also looks at its material history, that of a small oil painting on wood, an unfinished work measuring 27 by 21 cm, the improvised character of which Maurice Denis had exaggerated when referring to a cigar box. The analyses conducted by the C2RMF (Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France) in 2018 give more detail on the nature of the medium and the colours used by the artist.
Lastly, the exhibition touches on the history of the reactions of artists at the time, as well as its posterity in 20th century art.
This presentation, composed of 60 works, draws on the collections of the Musée d’Orsay in connection with the Pont-Aven School and the Nabis as well as those of the Museum of Pont-Aven. It includes exceptional loans from French museums, as well as numerous works conserved in private collections.