A painter, engraver, as well as art critic, writer and poet, Émile Bernard is a major figure whose crucial role in the development of modern art has not always been recognised. In the late 1880s, he introduced the Cloisonnist style. We know the importance this aesthetic would come to have, particularly in the work of Gauguin and van Gogh, to whom Bernard was close, as well as in the work of the Nabis. During this period Pont-Aven became the centre of unequalled pictorial innovation.

After the controversy over the invention of Symbolism in painting, which, in 1891, brought him into fierce dispute with Gauguin, Bernard moved to Cairo, but did not lose touch with Paris. This Egyptian exile became a place of profound change. Bernard re-examined the simplified stylisation and the Symbolists’ experimentation into Primitivism in works whose prophetic resonance has only recently appeared. The discovery of the ancient masters, however, prompted him more and more to return to tradition, in monumental paintings.

On his return to France, he was, in 1904, the first to go to Aix to see Cézanne, on whom he left fundamental testimonies and who would have a profound effect on him. Having being a critic very early on, Bernard published articles on aesthetics questioning the avant-garde movements in the name of pictorial tradition from the early 20th century. His painting then became overtly polemical. But, far from being defined by an outdated traditionalism, his art always bore the mark of his curious and tormented character in search of an artistic absolute.

This exhibition will be the first to present the long career of this multifaceted artist, whose successive transformations each time redefined the personality and questioned the notion itself of style.