Émile Bernard - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • Paysage de Bretagne (Paysage avec deux Bretonnes et vache), 1892, is one of the strongest examples of Émile Bernard’s Nabi, cloisonnist style in private hands, with an exceptional provenance dating back to esteemed Post-Impressionist gallerist Ambroise Vollard, and including Arthur G. Altschul, who assembled the premier 20th century American collection of Nabi art. By 1892, the year of this work’s facture, Bernard was at the peak of his powers as a Nabi painter; the following year, he began a decade of travel that forever disrupted his place in the avant-garde milieu of late 19th century France.


    Bernard was a member of the Nabis, a group of young French painters who took Paul Gauguin as their aesthetic guide. The group, including Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis, among others, found great inspiration in the elder artist’s Symbolist approach to color and form, wherein symbolic or spiritual resonance was more important than adherence to representational reality. Bernard, himself a talented and precocious painter, maintained that he inspired Gauguin in turn, claiming that he had introduced the artist to cloisonnism, a style of painting that takes its approach to form from the cloisonné metalwork technique, which uses thin lines of metal to delineate designs in enamel or precious gems, with an effect akin to that of the panes of stained glass windows.i


    Émile Bernard, La Moisson, 1888. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY 

    Paysage de Bretagne features two Breton women in traditional dress standing with their cow in the countryside, a subject matter that reflects Bernard’s early participation in the Pont Aven school, which also circled around Gauguin. The artists of the Pont Aven school admired the humility of Breton women, and romanticized their old-fashioned dress and rural lifestyle.ii This group, a precursor to the Nabis, was based in the town of Pont Aven in Brittany, where Bernard first met Gauguin in 1886. Two years later, Bernard joined Gauguin again in Pont Aven, in a meeting encouraged by the pair’s mutual friend, Vincent van Gogh.iii Art historian Nancy Mowll Mathews describes the profound effect Bernard had on Gauguin during their summer together in Pont Aven, writing that “Gauguin was energized by Bernard’s forceful rejection of the old tenets of naturalism and his desire to found an art based on entirely new principles… it is surprising how swiftly Gauguin assimilated Bernard’s new verbal and pictorial language,” namely, cloisonnism and Japanese aesthetics.iv “You are extraordinarily gifted,” Gauguin wrote to Bernard after their summer in Pont Aven, “and painting now, you will undoubtedly arrive.”v


    [Left] Paul Gauguin, Self-portrait with Émile Bernard (Les Misérables), 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Image: Bridgeman Images
    [Right] Émile Bernard, Self-portrait with Paul Gauguin, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Bernard and Gauguin sent these portraits to van Gogh while working together in Pont Aven in the summer of 1888. Image: HIP / Art Resource, NY 

    The mutuality of his relationships to both Gauguin and van Gogh bettered Bernard as an artist, encouraging him to seek out authentic, resonant subject matter, and to push himself through the use of vibrant, brighter-than-life color, as seen in Paysage de Bretagne. Bernard and van Gogh exchanged over a dozen letters between 1888 and van Gogh’s death in 1890, revealing a rich exchange of artistic practice. Bernard sent sketches and poems to the elder artist, who responded with his own sketches, thoughtful critiques, and advice to the eager young Bernard. 


    Writing to his brother in 1888, van Gogh noted that “young Bernard has perhaps gone further than [cloisonnist painter Louis] Anquetin in the Japanese style.”vi Such a statement was a strong endorsement of Bernard’s talent, as Anquetin was a leading figure in critical reviews of so-called “Japonism” at that time.vii To van Gogh, Bernard’s best work brought together the bright color and limpidity of Japanese painting and printmaking. Later, among his Nabis peers, Bernard would be known for the influence of Japanese art on his painting, with Paul Ranson going so far as to nickname him “Le Nabi très Japonard,” or, the very Japanese Nabi.viii


    [Left] Utagawa Hiroshige I, Distant view of Mt. Fuji, 1855. Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image: Freer Gallery of Art Study Collection, Gift of Victor and Takako Hauge
    [Right] Paul Sérusier, Eve bretonne, 1890. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY 

    The lush, rural landscape of Brittany comes to life in Paysage de Bretagne through Bernard’s masterful juxtaposition of contrasting colors in cloisonnist, Japanese-inspired style. He places golden tall grasses and the vermillion cow against the bright green of the fields; soft, pink clouds float against a clear blue sky. Within each contained unit of color, Bernard creates subtle variations in tone, recalling the glittering effect of light against enamel surfaces, or seen through stained glass. Such vibrant use of color theory, combined with the religious associations of precious cloisonné objects, give Bernard’s landscape a mystical, even spiritual connotation—his Paysage de Bretagne is almost mythically serene. This spiritual effect is a hallmark of the Nabis, who, as a group, believed that art should not be merely representational, but decorative; integrated into our daily lives, and aesthetically valuable for doing so.



    i George Heard Hamilton, The Pelican History of Art: Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880-1940, Penguin, New York, 1967, p. 105.

    ii Paul Sérusier, letter to Maurice Denis, dated “Jour de Vénus, 1889,” in Sérusier, ABC de la peinture, Librairie Floury, Paris, 1950, p. 2, online.

    iii Vincent van Gogh, letters to Émile Bernard, Aug. 5, 1888 and Aug. 21, 1888, translated in Leo Jansen et al., eds., Vincent Van Gogh—The Letters, vol. 4, The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2009, nos. 655 and 665.

    iv  Nancy Mowll Mathews, Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, New Haven, 2001, pp. 107-108.

    v  Paul Gauguin, letter to Bernard, Oct. 1888, quoted and translated in Maurice Malingue, ed., Paul Gauguin: Letters to his Wife and Friends, Boston, 2003, p. 101.

    vi  Van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh, Jun. 5, 1888, translated in Jansen, et al., no. 620.

    vii  Op. crit., ibid.

    viii  Hamilton, p. 113.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice https://www.phillips.com/auctions/auction/NY011123

    • Provenance

      Ambroise Vollard, Paris (acquired directly from the artist)
      Christian de Galéa, Paris
      Édouard Jonas, Paris
      Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above in 1962)
      Mr. and Mrs. Arthur G. Altschul, New York (acquired from the above on June 2, 1965)
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003

    • Exhibited

      Vannes, Musée de Limur, Peintres de la Bretagne: de Gauguin à nos jours, July 5–September 26, 1964, no. 157, p. 31
      Berkeley, University Art Museum, Excellence: Art from the University Community, November 6, 1970–January 9, 1971, no. 268, n.p.
      Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, Poets and Painters, June 8–September 7, 1997, pp. 12, 75 (illustrated, p. 12)
      Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin y los orígenes del simbolismo, September 28, 2004–January 9, 2005, no. 105, pp. 229, 319 (illustrated, p. 229)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Around Gauguin: Post-Impressionist works from the Triton Foundation, April 8–June 12, 2005
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Klaroenstoot voor de moderne kunst. De Nabis in de collectie van de Triton Foundation, April 29–November 30, 2008, pp. 19-20 (illustrated, p. 19)
      Paris, Galerie Malingue, Émile Bernard, époque de Pont-Aven, May 21–July 17, 2010, pp. 32-33 (illustrated, p. 33)
      Tokyo, The National Art Center; Fukuoka, Kyushu National Museum; Nagoya City Art Museum, Van Gogh: The adventure of becoming an artist, October 1, 2010–April 10, 2011, no. 101, pp. 170-171, 245 (illustrated, p. 171)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Dreams of Nature. Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky, February 24–June 17, 2012; then traveled as, Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery; Helsinki, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910, July 14, 2012–February 17, 2013, fig. 113, pp. 161, 199 (illustrated, p. 161)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 142-145, 539 (illustrated, p. 143; detail illustrated, pp. 144-145)
      Verona, Palazzo della Gran Guardia; Vicenza, Basilica Palladiana, Verso Monet: Storia del paesaggio dal Seicento al Novecento, October 26, 2013–May 4, 2014, pp. 322, 435 (illustrated)
      Madrid, Fundación Mapfre, Zuloaga en el París de la Belle Époque, 1889-1914, September 28, 2017–January 7, 2018, no. 36, pp. 144-145 (illustrated, p. 145)

    • Literature

      Jean-Jacques Luthi, Émile Bernard: Catalogue raisonné de l’ œuvre peint, Paris, 1982, no. 329, pp. 50-51 (illustrated, p. 51)
      Teio Meedendorp, “Willem Cordia en de Stichting Triton,” Bulletin van de Vereniging Rembrandt, 2004, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 9 (illustrated)
      Jean-Jacques Luthi and Armand Israël, Émile Bernard: instigateur de l'École de Pont-Aven, précurseur de l'art moderne - sa vie, son oeuvre. Catalogue Raisonné, Paris, 2014, no. 297, pp. 187, 427 (illustrated, p. 187)



Paysage de Bretagne (Paysage avec deux Bretonnes et vache)

oil on paperboard mounted on panel
45 5/8 x 32 5/8 in. (116 x 83 cm)
Painted in 1892.

Béatrice Recchi Altarriba has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Full Cataloguing

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,143,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023