Toward the end of the 1880s, Paul Gauguin developed an entirely new style of painting: whereas he had previously employed an impressionistic, analytical idiom, he now sought a radical simplification. He insisted that the fundamental properties of art were abstract, and he advised his followers, Les Nabis, to capture their impressions in syntheses, purer colours, and clearly demarcated shapes. Gauguin’s desire to replace naturalism and impressionism with a more primordial, “primitive” idiom coincided with a critical attitude toward civilization: seeking the primordial and the genuine. He found his way to the secluded region of Bretagne, where he stayed for a few years, first inland in Pont Aven and then in Le Poldu on the coast, before he left in 1891 to travel to faraway Tahiti for the first time.
Stylistically, Landscape, Bretagne is a transitional painting, where Gauguin’s interest in the decorative simplification of the visible is still combined with an impressionistic eye for detail. Two women and a young girl, clad in the distinctive costumes of the region, are herding some cows in the hilly terrain. But the scene is dominated by a gorgeous row of old, deciduous trees shaped by centuries of pollarding. From their mighty, amoeba-like trunks in violet and pink, long bouquets of thin branches extend upward toward the sky, while slender trunks of pine on the horizon repeat the foreground’s decorative simplification. Given this design, we may well speculate whether Gauguin’s synthesisism may also have been inspired by exotic art, above all Japanese art.
Text: Nils Messel
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0