School of Pont-Aven
At the fin de siècle, the small town of Pont-Aven in the south of Brittany attracted numerous artists from Paris who were intrigued by the beauty of the land and the rural life of the Breton peasants. Of the group, which included Emile Bernard, Paul Sérusier, and Armand Seguin, Paul Gauguin emerged as the conceptual leader, advocating an abstract style known as Synthetism.
Though perhaps best known for their paintings, the artists at Pont-Aven also actively experimented with printmaking, creating lithographs, woodcuts, and etchings that used the “primitive” way of life in Brittany as a point of departure for artistic exploration.
Synthetism, the aesthetic style advocated by Gauguin, attempted to create a synthesis between the perception of nature and abstract forms. Using the physical world as a starting point, the artists of Pont-Aven interpreted their surroundings in a decorative style evoking a specific mood or experience. Synthetist prints are characterized by the use of bold colours, rhythmic lines, and simplified, two-dimensional forms.
The Volpini Suite
Gauguin’s first serious attempt at printmaking resulted in the production of the Volpini Suite, a series of ten zincographs inspired by his time in Brittany, Arles, and Martinique. The suite takes its name from the exhibition at the Café Volpini where it was first shown in 1889 on the grounds of the World Exhibition. Printed on large sheets of luminous canary yellow paper, the contrast of the rich black and brown inks to the coloured ground creates a unique optical effect. Though the series was a financial failure, it encouraged younger artists, such as the Nabis, to explore printmaking as a creative medium.
Caroline Boyle-Turner, The Prints of the Pont-Aven School: Gauguin and his Circle in Brittany, Lausanne 1986
Catherine Puget, Gauguin et l'École de Pont-Aven, Paris 1997
Dennis Delouche, Les Peintres de la Bretagne, Quimper 2012