Paul SÉRUSIER | The fence [La barrière]

France 1863 – 1927

The fence
[La barrière]
oil on canvas
canvas 50.7 (h) x 62.3 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Gift of Henriette Boutaric 1981
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

In September or early October 1888 Sérusier went to stay at the Pension Gloanec, in Pont-Aven, Brittany, to paint scenes of peasant life. Among other artists there he met Emile Bernard, whose radical abandonment of three-dimensional space influenced Sérusier. Bernard also suggested that Sérusier approach Gauguin, who was living at the inn in Pont-Aven, to learn about the older artist’s ideas. Gauguin was to have a significant impact on Sérusier, advising him to abandon his feathery strokes reminiscent of Pissarro, and to avoid shadowing and modelling. Instead, he was urged to adopt strong outlines in the manner of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and to select a palette of simple bold colours with strong outlines of form.

Sérusier returned to Brittany the following summer, in 1889. By the autumn of that year Sérusier had followed Gauguin to the village of Le Pouldu, on the Breton sea coast, with its starker more barren landscape. This location and its people were described in the memoirs of the artist Archibald Standish Hartrick (who met Gauguin during his travels in France), as a place of:

dramatic strangeness … peopled by a savage-looking race who seemed to do nothing but search for driftwood, or to collect seaweed with strange sledges drawn by shaggy ponies, and the women in black dress, who wore the great black ‘coif’.1

Gauguin and Sérusier painted together here, and the latter produced these two landscapes of Le Pouldu village and its inhabitants.

Both Gauguin and Sérusier chose to depict a scene of village life viewed from the pasture’s gate, with a rocky outcrop and a backdrop of farm housing.2 The flowery fence, Le Pouldu shows the scene in blossom, depicting the trees in a decorative manner as a series of tree trunks highlighted with foliage and placed at regular intervals, recalling the trees in Sérusier’s most abstract composition, The talisman. Sérusier drew The flowery fence from Gauguin’s painting Hello, Mr. Gauguin 1889,3 where the artist depicts himself greeting a peasant woman at a village gate.

For The fence, painted a year later, Sérusier adopted a smoother downward brushwork. The landscape is unpopulated and the elements of the composition are shown in bold, almost geometric forms. The bright colours of the grassy fields and bushes contrast with the darker silhouetted forms of the trees which form the backdrop to this painting.

Sérusier went on to play a pivotal role in the development of a group of young artists, who were to call themselves the Nabis. He was the influential tutor for many of them at the Académie Julian—rejecting naturalism and proselytising the ideas and the style developed by Gauguin and other avant-garde artists at Pont-Aven.

Jane Kinsman

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Archibald Standish Hartrick, A painter’s pilgrimage through 50 years, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1939, p. 30, quoted in Caroline Boyle-Turner, Paul Sérusier, Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press 1983, p. 22.
  2. The painting by Gauguin is The gate (La barrière) 1889, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich.
  3. National Gallery, Prague. The composition was in turn inspired by Courbet’s Hello Mr Courbet (Bonjour Monsieur Courbet) 1854, Musée Fabre, Montpellier.