Paul Sérusier - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • Paul Sérusier was a founding member of the Nabis, a group of young French painters who redefined representation in art through from the 1880s through the 1890s. Sérusier named the group for the Hebrew word for “prophet,” after their artistic idol and “prophet,” Paul Gauguin. Sérusier and his peers admired the elder artist for his Symbolist approach to color and subject matter, wherein symbolic resonance was prized over realism. One of the most articulate and theoretically committed of the Nabis artists, Sérusier’s intellectual engagement with the movement shines forth in his uniquely shaped canvas, La Cueillette des pommes, 1891. Arguably one of the most significant works from the artist’s short career, this work represents the culmination of Sérusier’s studies with Gauguin, as the artist forged his voice as both Symbolist and Nabi.

    “I’m going to leave behind the girls with the pretty white headdresses for the young girls in tatters, yellow, thin, and strong, who watch their cows on the great rocky cliffs… I’m working here in small gardens full of flowers; I aspire to the dry and simple solitude of the coasts. I dream of such grand things...”
    —Paul Sérusier, letter to Maurice Denis, Pont Aven, 1889
    Sérusier spent the summers of 1889 and 1890 in Le Pouldu, Brittany, painting with Gauguin, and La Cueillette des pommes builds off of the lessons of these summers. Significantly, as Dr. Caroline Boyle-Turner writes, the work is Sérusier’s first allegorical painting.i Boyle-Turner identifies the landscape of La Cueillette des pommes as that of the bluff above la Plage des Grands Stables at Le Pouldu, but instead of choosing a strictly representational composition, Sérusier builds off of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ allegorical mural, Inter artes et naturam, c. 1890, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which Sérusier may have seen at the Salon du Champs-de-Mars in 1890.ii


    Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Inter artes et naturam, c. 1890-1895. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1958, 58.15.2 

    La Cueillette des pommes functions as a triptych across three shaped canvas panels, depicting the stages of the harvest of an apple tree in rural Brittany as an allegory of knowledge. The woman and baby at left, both in white caps, represent innocence, sitting under a tree ripe with fruit waiting to be tasted. At center, the youthful figures acquire knowledge as they harvest fruit from the apple tree, in a classic invocation of the Judeo-Christian Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden; these reaching figures also parallel the pose of the woman and child picking fruit in Puvis de Chavannes’ Inter artes et naturam. At right, figures in black caps, representing old age, walk away, skirts laden with untasted fruit, and a barren tree behind them. 


    The expanded chronology of the allegory unfolds like a narrative across time, and its articulation across three panels gives La Cueillette des pommes a frieze-like quality. And yet, there is a quality of stillness, a serenity that evokes Puvis de Chavannes’ Neo-Classical sensibility. The women wear timeless peasant clothes, rendered by Sérusier in brighter-than-life colors that expand into the countryside beyond. There’s a medievalism akin to the pre-Raphaelites here, evoked by the triptych form akin to medieval and Renaissance folding altarpieces, and yet the mode of painting is distinctly Nabis, uniquely Sérusier. The allegorical theme of apple-pickers captivated Sérusier, even as his painting style evolved past the Nabis. His circa 1912 painting, Age dor, ou la cueilleur de pommes, returns to the same theme as the present work, revealing the enduring resonance of La Cueillette des pommes across his career.


    Paul Sérusier, Age d’or, ou la cueilleur de pommes, c. 1912. 

    Raised in Paris, Sérusier admired what he perceived as the simplicity and raw honesty of country life in Brittany. He wrote with rapturous eagerness to fellow Nabi Maurice Denis, of the “young girls in tatters, yellow, thin, and strong,” whom he painted; of the rocky cliffs and expansive countryside.iii Inspired by Gauguin, Sérusier and the Nabis integrated their sincere emotional response to the countryside back into their paintings of the region through a heightened, Symbolist use of color, and the invocation of medieval, folk, Japanese, and other so-called “primitive” aesthetics.iv


    Sérusier, in particular, held a marked interest in how color could be most effectively used in painting. Inspired by a painting lesson with Gauguin in Pont Aven in 1888, Sérusier shared the elder artist’s Symbolist technique of using pure color to emotive, rather than strictly representational, effect with his Nabis peers. With Gauguin’s technique as a springboard, Sérusier developed his own color theory across the 1890s, which he relayed in lengthy correspondence to Denis and minor Nabi painter Jan Willibrod Verkade.v He also seems to have shared his ideas in letters to Gauguin himself, as extant responses from Gauguin from 1891, the year of La Cueillette des pommes creation, indicate: “You are kind to attribute your intellectual progress to me,” Gauguin wrote, “though I played only a small part… you made this progress, it is you who made this happen.”vi

    “Sérusier was not just a friend and disciple of Gauguin. Sérusier made paintings of a highly personal quality.”
    —Marius-Art Leblond

    Paul Gauguin, Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?, 1897-1898. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image: © 2023 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All rights reserved. / Tompkins Collection / Bridgeman Images

    As Gauguin’s response to Sérusier’s lost letter of 1891 suggests, by this time, the student had evolved his own style, independent of his teacher. It is possible, too, that Sérusier’s work in 1891 influenced Gauguin in turn, as there are marked compositional similarities between La Cueillette des pommes and Gauguin’s 1897-1898 masterpiece, Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Most noticeably, the two works share a central figure picking fruit, though there are parallels in the arrangements of seated figures at left, and walking figures at right, as well. Both works encapsulate multiple chronologies within these compositions, creating a sense of simultaneity, narrative continuity, and timelessness at once. In addition to these formal similarities, both Sérusier and Gauguin use a heightened sense of color and a flattened picture plane to emphasize the emotional, sensory impact of their subject matter. 


    For Sérusier, color elevated the timeless relevance of the apple-picking scene. He rendered the silhouette of the apple tree in a quintessential autumnal vermillion, while the grass is bright and vernal, and the sea behind a deep, cerulean summer hue. The apples gather in skirts and baskets in painterly flashes of green, pink and sunshine yellow, symbolizing a fruitful harvest more than any particular variety of apples. The abundance of Sérusier’s scene transcends seasons, in a Nabi celebration of color and form on the coast of Brittany.



    Caroline Boyle-Turner, “Triptyque: La Cueillette des Pommes or Le Paravent, c. 1891,” L’Éclatement de L’Impressionnisme, Musée Départemental du Prieuré, 2000.

    ii  Ibid.

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

    iv  Ibid., p. 3.

    v  Ibid., pp. 4, 15-17, et c.

    vi  Paul Gauguin, letter to Sérusier, dated Nov. 1891, ibid., p. 9.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice

    • Provenance

      Jean Claude Bellier, Paris
      Galerie Anton Meier S.A., Geneva
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner on June 26, 2001

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, De Pont-Aven aux Nabis: Rétrospective 1888-1903 (Société des Artistes Indépendants, 82e Exposition), April 16–May 9, 1971, no. 93, n.p. (illustrated; titled Le Tryptique de Pont-Aven; dated 1889-1893)
      London, Royal Academy of Arts; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Post-Impressionism: Cross-Currents in European Painting, November 17, 1979–September 1, 1980, no. 191, p. 129 (illustrated; titled Pont-Aven Triptych; dated 1892-1893)
      Tokyo, Mitsukoshi Gallery; Osaka, Mitsukoshi Gallery; Fujisawa, Saikaya Gallery; Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée du Prieuré, L'Éclatement de l'impressionnisme, July 21, 1981–January 16, 1983, no. 43, pp. 97, 139 (illustrated, p. 97; titled Triptyque de Pont-Aven; dated 1892-1893)
      Marcq-en-Baroeul, Fondation Septentrion, Autour de Gauguin à Pont-Aven 1886-1894, March 24–June 23, 1985, no. 60, n.p. (illustrated; titled Triptyque de Pont Aven; dated 1889-1893)
      Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée départemental du Prieuré, Le chemin de Gauguin, genèse et rayonnement, October 7, 1985–March 2, 1986, no. 366, pp. 178, 216 (illustrated, p. 178; titled Triptyque de Pont-Aven; dated 1892-1893)
      Morlaix, Musée des Jacobins, Paul Sérusier 1864–1927, July 3–October 5, 1987, no. 14, pp. 40-41, 46 (illustrated, pp. 40-41; illustrated in the inverse orientation, p. 46; dated 1892-1893)
      Paris, Galerie Bellier, Polyptyques et Paravents: Un Siècle de Création 1890-1990, April 6–July 14, 1990, pp. 26-27 (illustrated; dated 1892-1893)
      Zurich, Kunsthaus, Die Nabis Propheten der Moderne, May 28–August 15, 1993 (no. 109, pp. 255-256; illustrated, p. 256); then travelled as: Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Nabis 1888-1900, September 21, 1993–January 3, 1994, no. 109, pp. 255-256 (illustrated, p. 256)
      Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin y los orígenes del simbolismo, September 28, 2004–January 9, 2005, no. 106, pp. 231, 326 (illustrated, p. 231)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Around Gauguin: Post-Impressionist works from the Triton Foundation, April 8–June 12, 2005
      Rome, Complesso del Vittoriano, Paul Gauguin: Artist of Myth and Dream, October 6, 2007–February 3, 2008, no. 136, pp. 406-407 (illustrated, p. 407; titled Pont-Aven Triptych)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Klaroenstoot voor de moderne kunst: De Nabis in de collectie van de Triton Foundation, April 29–November 30, 2008, pp. 3, 18-19 (illustrated on the cover and p. 18)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 148-151, 563 (illustrated pp. 150-151; detail illustrated, p. 149)
      Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Van Gogh and Gauguin: Reality and Imagination, October 8, 2016–March 26, 2017, no. 31, p. 75 (illustrated)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum (on long term loan, January 2019–April 2023)
      London, The National Gallery, After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art, March 25–August 13, 2023, no. 36, pp. 116-117, 250 (illustrated, pp. 116-117)

    • Literature

      Wladyslawa Jaworska, Paul Gauguin et l’école de Pont-Aven, Neuchâtel, 1971, pp. 134-135, 259 (illustrated, pp. 134-135; titled Triptyque de Pont-Aven)
      Marcel Guicheteau, Paul Sérusier, Paris, 1976, no. 52, pp. 206-207 (illustrated, p. 207; titled Le Paravent)
      Sophie Monneret, L’impressionisme et son époque. Dictionnaire International, Paris, 1979, vol. I, p. 848 (titled Triptyque de Pont-Aven; dated circa 1983)
      Yann le Pichon, Les peintres du bonheur, Paris, 1983, pp. 206-207, 284 (illustrated; titled Le Paravent, ou triptyque de Pont-Aven)
      Yann le Pichon, Sur les traces de Gauguin, Paris, 1986, pp. 216, 262 (illustrated, p. 216; titled Triptyque de Pont-Aven)
      Diane Kelder, The Great Book of Post-Impressionism, New York, 1986, no. 203, pp. 194-195 (illustrated)
      Denise Delouche, ed., Pont-Aven et ses peintres à propos d’un centenaire, Rennes, 1986, pp. 81-85 (illustrated, p. 81; titled Le Triptyque)
      Belinda Thomson, Gauguin, London, 1987, no. 175, p. 196 (illustrated; titled Pont-Aven Triptych)
      Caroline Boyle-Turner, Paul Sérusier: La technique, L’oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1988, pp. 80-81, 155 (illustrated, p. 81; titled Le Triptyque)
      Polyptyques: Le tableau multiple du Moyen âge au vingtième siècle, exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1990, no. 39, pp. 179-181 (illustrated, p. 181)
      Gloria Groom, Edouard Vuillard: Painter-Decorator. Patrons and Projects, 1892-1912, New Haven and London, 1993, fig. 54, p. 37 (illustrated)
      Claude Jeancolas, La peinture des Nabis, Paris, 2002, pp. 112- 113 (illustrated; titled Le Tryptique de Pont-Aven)
      Frances Fowle and Belinda Thomson, eds., Patrick Geddes: The French Connection, Oxford, 2004, no. 23, p. 53 (illustrated)



La Cueillette des pommes

oil on canvas, triptych
left 26 5/8 x 15 3/4 in. (67.5 x 40 cm)
center 28 3/4 x 21 1/2 in. (73 x 54.5 cm)
right 26 5/8 x 15 3/4 in. (67.5 x 40 cm)
overall 28 3/4 x 53 1/8 in. (73 x 135 cm)

Painted in 1891.

The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Paul Sérusier – attestation from the Comité Paul Sérusier dated October 11, 2023.

Full Cataloguing

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $1,391,000

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