Only sixty or so prints are known by Émile Bernard (1868–1941), yet he was one of the most radical artists working in this medium at the fin de siècle.
At a young age, he set off for Brittany to capture the rural life of the Breton peasants in paintings, sculptures, and prints with Paul Gauguin and the other artists of the School of Pont-Aven.
Bernard showed his experimental print series Les Bretonneries at the World Exhibition in 1889. The series featured seven country scenes using a naive visual style with undulating lines and flat surfaces.
The prints revealed the artistic potential of modern printmaking to other young artists, such as the Nabis.
Spontaneous and unpolished
As part of his quest to achieve a modern and expressive visual idiom for his often mystical themes, Bernard taught himself the medieval woodcut technique.
In marked contrast to carefully printed belle épreuves, his prints display a casual spontaneity, complete with mistakes, fingerprints, and inkblots.
What made each print even more unique was Bernard’s habit of hand-colouring them using watercolour paint.
Bernard was increasingly influenced in the 1890s by his Catholicism.
He travelled to Constantinople and Egypt in search of the origins of Christianity.
The prints with scenes from the Bible that he sent back from these far-away places to the magazine L’Ymagier display a primitive character that he drew from the style and technique of medieval art.
Bernard continued to produce prints in this style for artists’ books well into the 20th century.
Caroline Boyle-Turner, Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven, London 1986
Mary-Ann Stevens (red.), Emile Bernard (1868-1941). A Pioneer of Modern Art, Zwolle 1990
Daniel Morane, Emile Bernard 1868-1941. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre gravé, Paris 2000