Emile-Henri Bernard was born on April 28, 1868 in Lille. His father was in the textile industry. In February 1871, birth of a sister, Madeleine. The family moved to Paris in 1878.
In September of 1884, Bernard entered Cormon’s atelier, where he met Louis Anquetin (1861-1931) and Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), with whom he frequented Montmartre, visited the Louvre, discovered the Impressionists and saw Cezanne paintings at Pere Tanguy’s shop. In March 1886, Bernard was expelled from Cormon’s atelier.
He left Paris on April 6th for his “voyage a pied” through Normandy and Brittany, eventually spending two months at Mme. Lemasson’s inn at St. Briac before walking across Brittany to Concarneau, where he met Emile Schuffenecker (1852-1934) who gave him an introduction to Gauguin at Pont-Aven. He spent August and September in Pont-Aven, but had little contact with Gauguin.
In the winter of 1886-87, Bernard met Van Gogh in Paris and went through a Pointillist phase.
In April 1887, he again visited Normandy and Brittany spending two months in St. Briac (where he decorated his room at Mme. Lemasson’s inn) and then moved to Pont-Aven (Gauguin and Laval were in Martinique).
Bernard was back in Paris by the autumn working in his parent’s new house at Asnieres, where his grandmother had a wooden studio built for him. Van Gogh worked briefly with him there and also organized an exhibition in the Grand Bouillon-Restaurant du Chalet in Clichy, including Bernard’s ‘syntheses geometriques’, which was visited by Seurat and Gauguin.
In late January 1888, Gauguin left for Pont-Aven; on February 20th, Van Gogh left for Arles (frequent correspondence with Bernard in 1888); and in late April, Bernard left for this third stay in St. Briac, where this time he spent three months. During this time he met the young Symbolist poet and art critic Albert Aurier (1865-1892) and he exchanged drawings with Van Gogh. By mid August he had moved to Pont-Aven where his mother and his sister, Madeleine, joined him. Two months of intense activity with Gauguin and Laval saw the ‘birth’ of Synthetism or Pictorial Symbolism. Important paintings include ‘Breton Women in the Meadow’ and ‘The Buckwheat Harvest’.
Bernard stayed on in Pont-Aven after Gauguin’s departure
for Arles (October 21st), returning to Paris in early November. Following Gauguin’s return to Paris from Arles at the end of December, he and Bernard spend the next five months painting, making zincographs (encouraged by Theo Van Gogh), and fraternizing with Laval, Schuffenecker, Aurier and Guillaumin. Together they visited the World Exposition in May: saw Buffalo Bill, Javanese dancers and witnessed the triumph of Manet’s paintings.
In early June, Gauguin returned to Pont-Aven. Shortly afterwards, the Café Volpini exhibition opened. Bernard showed twenty paintings and his zincographs. In late July, he makes his fourth visit to St. Briac; is forbidden by his father to join Gauguin in Pont-Aven and has returned to Paris by September. Bernard encourages Aurier to write an article on Van Gogh (published in Mercure de France, January 1890); he works on religious paintings at Asnieres, approved of by Gauguin, denounced by Van Gogh.
A letter from Van Gogh
(Click to read translation)
By December, depressed, Bernard returns to Lille to work as a textile designer for six months. Bernard attends Van Gogh’s funeral on July 30th at Auvers-sur-Oise. Shortly afterwards, Bernard prepared a raffle for one of his paintings. He remained in Paris for the rest of the year.
On February 22, 1891, Bernard quarreled with Gauguin at the latter’s sale. It’s the last known contact between them. The rift is exacerbated by Aurier’s article on Gauguin in March. Bernard breaks with Aurier. Eventually, Bernard spends from August to October at St. Briac with his sister Madeleine. He begins carving designs on furniture as well as painting harvest pictures. In December, he exhibits three paintings at the Barc de Boutteville gallery in Paris, the first exhibition of the ‘Peintres Impressionistes et Symbolistes’.
In 1892, in the same gallery, Bernard organized a small retrospective show (sixteen works) of Van Gogh; participated in the first Salon de la Rose+Croix; executed tapestries and stained glass, illustrated Moreas’s ‘Cantilenes’ and spent some considerable time in Pont-Aven, staying until the early weeks of 1893. By March 1893, he was in Italy, eventually reaching Egypt where he remained until 1904. His sister Madeleine died in Cairo on November 20, 1895, aged twenty-four. Bernard visited Cezanne in 1904; was friendly with Redon; but already by 1893 had rejected modernism and was looking for inspiration to older European art. He was a gifted writer on art, polemicist, poet, essayist and book illustrator. Bernard returned to Pont-Aven for the last time in 1939-40. He died in Paris on April 16, 1941.