A Painting by Emile Bernard Pre-Empted by the Musée d’Orsay

Émile Bernard (1868-1941)
The Shepherd Resting, c. 1904-1908
Oil on Canvas - 120 x 150 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Patrick Schmidt

27/11/12 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée d’Orsay - Emile Bernard left France in 1893 and, after various stops in Italy, Greece and Turkey arrived in Cairo where he lived for about ten years, painting a series of orientalist works. After returning to Paris in 1904, he swore only by the Old Masters. In fact, he dreamed of "a return to the art of tradition, to great painting, to classical, that is, complete art." Without producing a pastiche of the great masters, he wished to pursue "their ideal of perfection, soul and sentiment as well, through plastic perfection, in the most absolute simplicity" [1]. His distancing from the avant-garde was misinterpreted and the paintings of this period remain unfamiliar to us today.

The Musée d’Orsay pre-empted a painting by Bernard for 19,200€ (including charges) at the auction organized by Binoche-Maredsous in Orleans on 13 October 2012 [2]. The work was produced precisely in these years between 1904-1908 and represents a young man sitting next to a sleeping nymph - and callipygia - in an Arcadian landscape ; entitled The Shepherd Resting, it is an unpublished canvas and does not appear in Jean-Jacques Luthi’s catalogue raisonné (1982) [3]. It obviously reveals the artist’s fascination for Titian, also Poussin, and can be compared to other works by him, notably The Three Nymphs or After the Bath (1908) which Orsay has placed on deposit at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, or yet again the superb Nude in front of a Landscape in Tonnerre from 1904 (private collection). This is indeed far removed from Cloisonnism and Symbolism. Actually, among modern painters, "some strive to charm our senses, others our thirst for curiosity, but very few take on our soul [...] The important thing to confess in art, is the vision of Beauty, of the supernatural or of life (mental life)." [4]

There are in all seventeen paintings by Emile Bernard in the Musée d’Orsay collections, mainly from the Pont Aven period. This acquisition therefore enables the museum to present a neglected aspect of his work, especially since Orsay is preparing an exhibition on the artist for autumn 2014 with the purpose of showing notably how by turning to the past, Emile Bernard was perhaps a forerunner, announcing the return to the classical tradition of Derain and of many Italian painterss such as Felice Casorati.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, samedi 1er décembre 2012


[1] A letter by Emile Bernard to Andries Bonger, dated 20 December 1900, in Emile Bernard, Les Lettres d’un artiste ( 1884-1941), Les Presses du réel, 2012.

[2] See La Gazette de Drouot of 19 October 2012.

[3] We would like to thank Bertrand Dumas for pointing out this pre-emption and providing us with further details.

[4] ibidem.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in News Items : Two Pre-Emptions for the Petit Palais and for the BnF

Next article in News Items : Fundraising Drives : Hubert Robert for Valence, CMN and Ecole des Chartes