Art Term

Synthetism

Term associated with the style of symbolic representation adopted by Paul Gauguin and his followers in the 1880s characterised by flat areas of colour and bold outlines

Eric Forbes-Robertson, ‘In the Forest, Pont-Aven’ c.1895
Eric Forbes-Robertson
In the Forest, Pont-Aven c.1895
Tate
Paul Gauguin, ‘Harvest: Le Pouldu’ 1890
Paul Gauguin
Harvest: Le Pouldu 1890
Tate
Louis Anquetin, ‘Girl Reading a Newspaper’ 1890
Louis Anquetin
Girl Reading a Newspaper 1890
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Rather than painting a naturalistic representation of observed reality, Paul Gauguin and his followers at Pont Aven aimed to create art that combined (or synthesised) the subject-matter with the artist’s feelings about the subject and the aesthetic concerns of line, colour and form. As Maurice Denis observed in 1890:

It is well to remember that a picture before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order

An exhibition of ‘synthétisme’ was mounted by the Pont-Aven artists in 1889 and the ‘groupe synthétiste’, including Gauguin and Emile Bernard, was founded in 1891. Another follower of the movement, Paul Sérusier, founded the Nabis group.

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