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Emile Bernard


Even at an early stage, Emile Bernard’s art was marked by the bold simplification of his approach. He was a friend of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, and his views on art theory influenced both artists. Bernard was one of the pioneers of Synthetism and also developed the painting style called Cloisonnism, influenced by stained glass techniques.

Bernard (1868–1941) was born in Lille, son of a cloth merchant. He trained at the Académie Cormon in Paris, where he befriended Louis Anquetin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. His earlier works show the influence of Impressionism and later Divisionism, but he was also drawn to medieval art, especially stained glass and Gothic architecture.

With Anquetin Bernard developed a technique known as Cloisonnism, using strong black contours and flat areas of colour. Working in Brittany in 1888, Bernard discussed his theories with Paul Gauguin, inspiring him to produce his ground-breaking Symbolist painting The Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel). Bernard exhibited Cloisonnist works alongside Gauguin at the Café Volpini exhibition in 1889 and he also contributed to the first Salon de la Rose + Croix in 1890. He later fell out with Gauguin and travelled abroad in Italy and Egypt, where he lived until 1903.

Bernard returned to France in 1904 and the following year founded a new art journal, La Rénovation Esthétique, which he edited until 1910. In the 1920s he reverted to a slick, highly finished style, specialising in figure paintings.