At the fin de siècle, printmakers often turned to primitive art forms and popular visual culture for sources of inspiration.
In this vein, the French Symbolist writers Alfred Jarry and Remy de Gourmont founded L’Ymagier, an ambitious art review. Here, they presented the works of contemporary printmakers next to examples of medieval woodcuts and popular prints known as Épinal.
L’Ymagier helped to revive contemporary interest in the woodcut technique for artists like Edvard Munch and Emil Nolde.
Looking to the past
L’Ymagier’s interest in religious Épinal and medieval woodcuts was rooted in a fervent desire to achieve a more authentic form of modern art. For Jarry, archetypal Christian symbols, such as the Passion and the Virgin Mary, possessed universal meaning of continued importance to contemporary artists.
This interest in the past was shared by the artists of the School of Pont-Aven, who looked to the traditions and rituals of the Breton peasants for creative inspiration.
Emile Bernard and L'Ymagier
Bernard contributed extensively to L’Ymagier, producing prints that resembled medieval religious woodcuts.
Yet despite their archaic appearance, the artist’s prints were not isolated from the most contemporary artistic currents in literature and poetry.
His composition, Herodiade for example, is likely indebted to Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem of the same name.
Caroline Boyle-Turner, The Prints of the Pont-Aven School: Gauguin and his Circle in Brittany, Lausanne 1986
Daniel Morane en Laure Harscoët-Maire, Emile Bernard, 1868-1941: catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre gravé, Pont-Aven 2000
Alastair Brotchie, Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life, Boston 2011