Béatrice Recchi Altabarra has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Ambroise Vollard, Paris Acquired from the above circa 1955
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum & Essen, Musuem Folkwang, Van Gogh and Early Modern Art, 1990, n.n. Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario (on loan)
Jean-Jacques Luthi, Émile Bernard, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1982, no. 272, illustrated p. 45
This large-scale still life dates from the most interesting period of Bernard’s career. He had shown himself to be a precocious student who absorbed new ideas quickly, but his work up until the mid-1880s was still fairly tentative. In the spring of 1887 however, partly with the aim of creating a visual equivalent to literary Symbolism, he and Louis Anquetin began to develop a style inspired by Japanese Ukijo-e woodblock prints and stained glass, with flat areas of color surrounded by bold outlines and produce fully resolved paintings.
Over precisely the same period, Paul Cézanne’s fascination with the genre of still life was evolving and arguably reached its pinnacle in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when he began to move away from dense networks of impasto and strict frontality in favor of more complex and dramatic spatial arrangements. Bernard first encountered the older artist’s work in 1886 at the Parisian paint supply shop run by Julien-François Tanguy (known affectionately as Père Tanguy), who used to accept paintings in lieu of payment. In an article written the same year the present lot was executed, Bernard recalled the astonishing impression that Cézanne’s still lifes made on him: “apples round as if done with compasses, triangular pears, crooked bowls, abundantly folded napkins“ (quoted in “Paul Cézanne,” in Les Hommes d'aujourd'hui, Paris, 1890, n.p.; see fig. 1).
Bernard’s affinity with Paul Gauguin in his Breton works and their subsequent falling out was perhaps the more public artistic relationship at this time, but the influence of Cézanne on his still lifes was an enduring one, and the two artists maintained a warm correspondence. Almost thirty years Cézanne’s junior, Bernard continued to benefit from the older artist’s technical advice as well as his teasing reprovals. “For us men, nature has more depth than surface,” Cézanne wrote to him in 1904, “hence the need to introduce in our vibrations of light, represented by reds and yellows, enough blue tints to give a feeling of air... I would like to say that I have had another look at your study of the ground floor of the studio, it is good. All you need do, I think, is to continue along these lines, you have an understanding of what ought to be done, and you will soon be able to turn your back on the Gauguins and Van Goghs!” (Alex Danchev, ed., The Letters of Paul Cézanne, Los Angeles, 2016, n.p.).
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