japonisme: when brittany was a place

17 September 2008

when brittany was a place

gauguin stressed the need for firm outlines filled with flat areas of color. some call it cloisonne-ism, but i'd call it something else.

frequently, he used the same yellow paper for his prints as hokusai used as covers for his manga.

it is said he both used and was influenced by emile bernard. it is also said that the reverse is true.

with the advent of railroads and portable painting kits, artists rushed to the edges of france, to brittany, to pont-aven and beyond. artists from throughout the world, even japan.

As an artist escaping in search of “primitivism,” Gauguin was not the first to find Pont-Aven, Brittany. According to historian Caroline Boyle-Turner, the small French village had been drawing in artists since the early 1860’s. Artists were attracted to the region because of its strong local culture and religious fervor. The village, located on the Aven river, was populated by a group who, as Boyle-Turner puts it, maintained qualities of “a cultural past that was governed less by French culture then by a fascinating amalgam of Celtic, Druidic and medieval Christian folklore.” This blend of ancient elements created an environment where artists believed they could encounter a more “primitive” and “true” people.

As Gill Perry points out, this “primitivism,” while still in existence, had diminished by the 1880’s, the peak of Pont-Aven’s popularity among artists and the period when Gauguin was working there. Technical advances in farming as well as the continuing increase in revenue from tourism had helped to move Brittany forward into the modern world and away from the timelessness artists had come looking for. Thus, Perry asserts that artists working in Brittany were more specifically recreating ideas of the “primitive” they were in search of rather than representing the true Breton culture around them. 1

gauguin said, ""Study the silhouette of every object; distinctness of outline is the attribute of the hand that is not enfeebled by any hesitation of will." is this not the heart of calligraphy as well?

"Gau- guin paid little attention to classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle gradations of colour, thereby dispensing with the two most characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting." again.

whatever the context, the explanation, or audience, the impressionists, the nabis, and the pont-aven circle of printmakers, benefited themselves from exposure to the prints from japan, and changed western art forever.

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Blogger willow said...

Interesting post! The mother and child painting is wonderful!! Is that one by Carl Moser?

17 September, 2008 19:06  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

yes willow, it is. isn't he wonderful. and i've been able to find so little of his work....

by the way, if you hold your curser over any given image, most of the time the artist's name will appear on the far right on the bottom frame of your screen.

if you click on the image, you will go to another page with the artist's name on the top of the frame!

17 September, 2008 19:23  
Blogger Neil said...

The reverse is always true!
The bold outlines that Gauguin and Bernard liked are great, but they can get a bit oppressive, as they did (for my taste) in the work of Georges Rouault. Of course Rouault was apprenticed at the age of 14 as a glass painter, so the heavy black outlines of his art are a true reflection of something deeply embedded in him.

18 September, 2008 14:40  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

what a great line, neil! very cosmic ;^)

i think it's pretty clear that bernard and gauguin (or vice versa) were influenced by the japanese prints.

rouault, yeah. looks more like a stained glass influence. i hadn't thought about him in this context.

still, his popularity may have owed much to japonisme

18 September, 2008 15:46  

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