Pont-Aven

From 1886 to 1890 Pont-Aven, in Brittany, was the favourite resort of a group of artists, who in time came to be known as the Pont-Aven School.

Gauguin went there in 1886, partly, as he said, for reasons of economy, but also because he hoped to find "in this unspoilt land of old-world customs" an atmosphere quite different from that of "our atrociously civilized communities." Here he met his old friend Schuffenecker; also Emile Bernard, to whom he gave a rather cool reception. Gauguin now seemed to be abandoning the analysis of colour, turning his back on Impressionism, and putting Pissarro, his erstwhile teacher, out of mind. A word that often cropped up in his conversation was "Synthesis." His visit was brief on this occasion; he soon returned to Paris. During his second stay in Pont-Aven, in 1888, his contacts with other artists were on a wider scale. Several new -isms now came to the fore; alongside Symbolism there arose Synthesism and Cloisonnism. On this occasion the original trio -- Gauguin, Schuffenecker and Bernard -- was joined later in the year by Henri Moret, the Dutchman Verkade and Sérusier. By Synthesism was meant "a concise simplification" of the forms expressing the Idea.

But it was Cloisonnism that led to the most heated discussions. Its technique was simple enough -- that of binding forms in clean-cut contour-lines. Emile Bernard claimed paternity of the method, but there is no denying that this technique was not, strictly speaking, original; it had precedents in Japanese prints, in stained-glass windows, and of course in cloisonné enamel-work (in which the 'cloisons' are left visible); not to mention the popular picture-sheets produced at Epinal from the eighteenth century on. This technique found favour with the Pont-Aven group, and Sérusier codified it. It was now that Gauguin painted his Yellow Christ and his magnificent Jacob wrestling with the Angel. Next year, finding Pont-Aven overcrowded the group migrated to the near-by village of Le Pouldu, making Marie Henry's inn their headquarters. Here, Gauguin made the acquaintance of the Dutch painter Meyer de Haan. The inn parlour was decorated by Gauguin, Henri Moret, Maufra, Meyer de Haan and Sérusier.

There can be no doubt as to the coherency of the theories of the Pont-Aven group. One of these was that the artist should "dare everything," as Gauguin put it. Another, that the traditional views on art borrowed from Greece and Italy should be rejected, and a return made to archaic and hieratic forms, Assyrian or Breton as the case might be. Also that the artist should suggest impressions, conveying his "suggestion" by his arrangement of colours, light and shade, and thus produce the effect of music on the pictorial plane; that outlines should be clean-cut, as in Japanese prints and stained-glass windows (as described above); that flat colour rimmed by contour-lines should suggest a new kind of depth, due to the relative intensity of tones. And all these devices were to be put to the service of that one thing most desirable: the Symbol.

No comments: