Émile Bernard (1868 - 1941), Pont-Aven, 1888
oil on canvas,
46 cm x 56 cm
Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent van Gogh had little opportunity in Arles to see the work of other artists. He was especially curious about what his friends Bernard and Gauguin were producing together in Pont-Aven in Brittany, so he asked whether they would like to paint each other’s portrait in exchange for work by him. The two artists produced self-portraits instead, with a small likeness of the other man in the background.
Bernard completed this self-portrait very quickly, wet-on-wet, with fluid brushstrokes, mixing his colours on the canvas. He applied them in thin layers – partly to save paint, and hence money, but above all to achieve a matt effect. He signed the work ‘Emile Bernard, à son copaing Vincent’. The extra ‘g’ at the end of ‘copain’ (‘friend’) was meant as a joke about the local accent in Provence, where Van Gogh was living.
Vincent was enthusiastic about the portrait: ‘it’s nothing but an idea of a painter, some cursory tones, some blackish lines, but it’s as stylish as real, real Manet', he wrote to his brother Theo.