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Paul Sérusier

French Painter

Movements and Styles: Post-Impressionism, Les Nabis, Symbolism, Synthetism, Cloisonnism

Born: November 9, 1864 - Paris, France

Died: October 7, 1927 - Morlaix, France

Paul Sérusier Timeline

Important Art by Paul Sérusier

The below artworks are the most important by Paul Sérusier - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Le Talisman, the Aven River at the Bois d'Amour (1888)

Le Talisman, the Aven River at the Bois d'Amour (1888)

Artwork description & Analysis: This work marks the beginning of Sérusier's exploration into color, sensation, and abstraction. Divorcing himself from the Impressionists' more faithful representation of what they observed, Sérusier focused instead on translating his sensations onto the canvas. Based upon his impressions of a day outside, Sérusier transformed each piece of nature into a swathe of color-filled energy, unified by vivid brushstrokes. The trees are yellow and the ground is orange, separating it from a traditional landscape. He painted what he felt, not what he saw. Gauguin encouraged him to move beyond the straightforward representation of a scene, but the artist went one step further, creating an abstracted marvel based predominantly on emotion and personal vision.

It is also the painting that marks the creation of the Nabis: this painting was supposed to be their "talisman" (or the guide and good luck charm) for future work. With this small sketch-like painting, completed on the back of a cigar box, he aimed to free his fellow artists from the artistic shackles of representation and thus allow them to pour their thoughts and emotions onto the canvas. It was enthusiastically adopted by the group as an inspirational guide to future abstraction and an emblem celebrating the prioritization of sensation over visual fidelity. Maurice Denis explained the effects of The Talisman best when he said "thus was introduced to us for the first time, in a paradoxical and unforgettable form, the fertile concept of a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order. Thus we learned that every work of art was a transposition, a passionate equivalent of a sensation received."

Oil on Wood - Musée D'Orsay, Paris

Portrait of Paul Ranson in Nabi Costume (1890)

Portrait of Paul Ranson in Nabi Costume (1890)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of the few portraits painted by Sérusier, who mainly focused on landscapes, this painting is remarkable for its representation of Paul Ranson who was a member of the Nabis since its inception, and who favored the same symbolism as Sérusier. Overall, this group reflects a growing fin-de-siècle trend of religiosity, both in traditional and occult circles; the members of the Nabis created a close brotherhood modeled after religious orders and were inspired by levels of consciousness beyond the concrete or visual, but their focus appears to have been predominantly visual rather than spiritual. Although it is not known whether the Nabis actually performed rituals, this clearly shows the group's interests in esoteric symbolism, including the details of the costume and objects.

The portrait is also notable for its use of Cloisonnism, the representational style favored by Sérusier and Gauguin. As is often seen in works of this style, there is very little depth in the painting; Ranson is in the extreme foreground and his form is firmly planted in the second dimension, not the third. His body is outlined in black, another distinct characteristic of Cloisonnism.

Oil on canvas - Musée D'Orsay, Paris

Farmhouse at le Pouldu (1890)

Farmhouse at le Pouldu (1890)

Artwork description & Analysis: Motivated and inspired by his time in Brittany with Paul Gauguin, in this work Sérusier applies and expands on what he has learned from his mentors. Clearly showing his experimentation and fascination with Synthetism, Sérusier has filled his tableau with flattened forms and large swathes of color. The Breton woman is entirely two-dimensional, emphasizing the fact that this is a painting and dispelling with any attempt to fool the viewer into believing that a real person is on the canvas. She is walking in front of a simplistically shaped home, filled in and surrounded by unembellished pools of color. In a last burst of Synthetism, everyone and everything is clearly outlined. Sérusier also applies the proto-cubist techniques of Paul Cezanne to create his scene by using rows of short, visible brushstrokes in the sky, trees, and thatched roof.

Additionally, this work also stands out in Sérusier's oeuvre because of its unconventional representation of a genre scene. While at first it seems like a traditional depiction of country life, when one looks closer Sérusier's true objective becomes clear: decoration. This scene centers on the decorative organization of its objects. Each element has been placed in a way most appealing to the eye; the blues of the woman's dress blends into the blue of the shadows, and the green of her apron relates to the green of the trees behind her. Farmhouse at le Pouldu is craftily organized and masterfully executed.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Apple Harvest (1891)

Apple Harvest (1891)

Artwork description & Analysis: Like his friend and collaborator Paul Gauguin did in Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897), Sérusier's Apple Harvest is a tripartite representation of the progression of life. Sérusier has more explicitly referenced the traditional triptych structure by using three panels. He was likely inspired by his time with Gauguin in Brittany, where the local women's costumes and activities had remained largely unchanged since the Middle Ages. This fascinated both artists, who depicted the lives of Breton locals in their works.

Three different parts of female life are represented here: on the left a woman nurtures her child, in the center the women harvest crops, and on the right the women bring back food for the town and their families. These women are, to Sérusier, unchanging in their daily tasks, unwavering in their devotion for centuries. The work is as much about what the women symbolize(the physical manifestation of religious devotion) as it is about their representation.

Apple Harvest is the apex of Sérusier's explorations into Synthetism. This painting has been entirely constructed in the Synthetist style, devoid of other artistic stylistic influences. Nothing is complex. The flowers, the women, the lake, all forms are simple. Additionally, all forms are flattened. There is no attempt to instill the illusion of depth of three-dimensionality into the painting. There is no dilution of color. The blue of the lake pops against the yellow of the background. A dress is simply a broad stroke of orange or green.

Apple Harvest is an intellectual foray into demonstrating a new artistic style, but it is also aesthetically driven; an example of one of Sérusier's many achievements in uniting decoration with fine art. As in his previous depictions of Breton women, the scene is exquisitely organized. The colors are aesthetically pleasing and the arrangement of women, going from left to right, leads the eye on an intriguing journey much in the way that genre scenes on wallpaper do. The Nabis were as much interested in uniting decoration and painting as they were to focusing on translating emotion into color.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection



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Paul Sérusier Photo

Related Art and Artists

The Yellow Christ (1889)

The Yellow Christ (1889)

Artist: Paul Gauguin

Artwork description & Analysis: The Yellow Christ is a strong example of both Cloisonnism (a style characterized by dark contours and bright areas of color separated by bold outlines) and Symbolism (in which subject matter is idealized or romanticized in some fashion). The painting's predominant imagery, the crucified Christ, is evident, but Gauguin places the scene in the north of France during the peak season of Autumn foliage, indeed as women in 19th-century garb gather at the foot of the cross. It remains for the viewer to decide whether the vision is conjured in the minds of the pious or physically manifest in the contemporary landscape.

Oil on canvas - The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Nabi Landscape (1890)

Nabi Landscape (1890)

Movement: Les Nabis

Artist: Paul Ranson

Artwork description & Analysis: This simple composition is based on flat shapes - including the flat, exotic patterns of Paul Gauguin - intense colors, and curving lines based on organic form. However, the subjects are Symbolist in character, and include the astral symbols of sun and moon hovering in the sky above the mountains (the celestial home of the gods), a bearded prophet figure or "Nabi" encased in a dark aura, (whom some have suggested represents the Hindu god Rama) wearing an ouroboros bracelet (the snake biting its tail), a peacock, and a phoenix-like bird - all symbols of the cyclical and eternal life - mounted by a female figure (possibly Sita, wife of Rama, coming back to earth). On the back of the painting are Arabic letters that spell out "Nabi." In this painting, Ranson reveals himself as the Nabi artist closest to the style of Art Nouveau, and the artist perhaps most seriously wedded to the kinds of obscure iconography taken from world religions, Celtic legends, and theosophy (a system of esoteric philosophy seeking direct knowledge of the mysteries of being and nature, particularly the nature of the divine).

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

Game of Shuttlecock (1892)

Game of Shuttlecock (1892)

Movement: Les Nabis

Artist: Édouard Vuillard

Artwork description & Analysis: This lateral, frieze-like composition was part of a six-paneled work that was Vuillard's first decorative painting for a private residence. In 1892, Thadee Natanson's cousin Stephane persuaded his sister Leonie and her moneyed industrialist husband Paul Desmarais to commission this piece, perhaps as a means for Paul Desmarais to establish himself as a person of culture. This panel reveals how leisure activities were available to the upper classes at the time, and, in particular, demonstrates the freedom that the New Woman found in sports, which is reflected in the contemporary fashion that clothes Vuillard's figures. Gloria Groom has pointed to the female in the center left foreground, whose slim skirt line has added fullness at the lower back edge, alluding to the transition in fashion from the flounced bustle of the 1880s to the inverted lily shape skirts with the tailored jackets of the 1890s that allowed females to participate in sports. Her partner wears knickerbockers associated with cycling. Two domestics or chaperones appear at the left in their Sunday best, even if they do not have access to the same leisure activities as the upper crust. The roughened forms of all the figures almost seem to poke fun at the entire sport enterprise.

Vuillard, perhaps the least conventional Nabi at this time in terms of his grayed-down palette and coarse shapes, also contributed to the group a certain appreciation for the motifs of contemporary life, reflecting differences amongst the social classes.

Oil on canvas - Desmarais Collection, Paris

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Edited and revised by Sarah Archino

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Edited and revised by Sarah Archino
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