Fin-de-siècle printmakers like Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and Paul Sérusier were inspired by other times and places.
They borrowed subject matter, styles, and techniques from exotic cultures, rural Brittany, and the devout Middle Ages, all of which were seen as unspoiled and primitive in contrast to the industrialisation and moral decay of their own decadent lives in Paris.
The simplified, unpolished style and technique of these artists drew inspiration from these different eras and locations.
This wide range of ‘primitive’ sources of inspiration helped them shrug off the contemporary creative tradition, which centered on the detailed and naturalistic representation of reality.
Artists working in the primitive manner were eager to view the world in a naive, almost childlike way in order to arrive at a more expressive and spiritual art.
Bernard imitated the crude style of medieval woodcuts to heighten the power of his prints of biblical scenes.
Meanwhile, in his print series known as the Volpini suite, Gauguin depicted both Breton peasants and exotic culture of Martinique.
He constructed his compositions from flat expanses of colour and based his representation of human figures on the sculpture of ‘primitive’ peoples.
Robert L. Herbert, Peasants and "Primitivism": French Prints from Millet to Gauguin, tent.cat., South Hadley 1995
Philippe Dagen, Le peintre, le poète, le sauvage: Les voies du primitivisme dans l'art français, Paris 1998
Elizabeth Emery, Laura Morowitz, Consuming the Past. The Medieval Revival in Fin-de-siècle France, Aldershot 2003