Thursday, February 12, 2009

"The Talisman"

“The Talisman,” an exquisite small plein-air landscape by Paul Serusier, marked a turning point in art history. Painted in 1888 on an 11”x9” wooden panel in colors almost straight out of the tube, this single painting became an inspiration to a generation of Post-Impressionists.

Born in Paris in 1864, Paul Serusier studied classical philosophy, Greek, Latin, and the sciences and began his art training at the Julian Academy in 1885. From there, he went to Pont-Aven in Brittany, a town popular among artists (both French and foreign). Just before he went back to Paris, Serusier decided to show one of his paintings to the well-known Paul Gauguin, who had spent much of his childhood in Peru and had no academic art training. He encouraged Serusier to free himself from the constraints of imitative painting, to use pure colors and exaggerate his impressions, giving the painting its own logic. Returning to Paris, Serusier carried a small painting he had made following Gauguin’s advice, which became known as “The Talisman,” and began sharing the new ideas with his friends at the Academy - Bonnard, Denis, and Ranson.

Serusier named his group, which later included Vuillard and Roussel, “The Nabis” (Hebrew for “The Prophets”). In their departure from linear perspective and modeling, they had an affinity with Japanese prints, Italian primitives and contemporary graphic posters on the streets of Paris. Denis defined their view of painting as “basically a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order,” which put the emphasis on the two-dimensional, “decorative” use of the visible world (in French, the concept doesn’t imply triviality, but rather work that is personal, evocative and even spiritually significant).

The Nabis disbanded in 1899, but they had created a link between the remote past (medieval tapestries and frescoes), distant places (Japan & Africa) and the future (Matisse and Picasso) as well as between fine art and applied design (theatre sets and Art Nouveau)... and all because of that one little plein-air painting.

– Sarah Judson


Ellridge, Arthur, Gauguin and the Nabis, Terrail, 1995

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