European Art: 19th Century

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Still Life with Flowers, 1887

Émile Bernard

French, 1868-1941
Oil on canvas
19-3/4 x 24 in. (50.2 x 61.0 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Jennifer Jones Simon
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris Reproduction, including downloading of ARS works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

On view

By the time Émile Bernard painted this extremely accomplished still life, he had already been asked to leave two art schools, befriended Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, met Paul Gauguin on a trip across Brittany, and was preparing for an exhibition. Yet the artist was only nineteen years old. Bernard’s interest in simplifying his shapes and colors into “compartments” is already on view here, and two years later, a more developed form of this style would come to be known as Synthetist painting. The structural rigidity of this picture is reinforced over and again by the oval forms of the pots, the horizontal lines indicating the table, the vertical lines of the stalks of the flowers, and even a white butterfly, which appears completely frozen in space. Many of the artists at this time were experimenting with reductive forms for a variety of reasons— whether it be for decorative, spiritual, or simply formal purposes—and yet all of these roads lead to the work of both French and German modernism of the early twentieth century.

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