Important Art by Paul Sérusier
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."
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.
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 Cézanne 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.