What is Cloissonnism? Learn more about this post-impressionist style of art

The 19th century was a time of significant change in the art world. In the 1870s, the Impressionists rejected the fine arts (“fine arts”) in favor of depictions of fleeting moments inspired by light. This innovative style eventually gave way to its successor, Post-Impressionism, which found its roots in color rather than light. One of the significant styles that emerges from this art movement is Cloisonnism.

Created by Emile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Paul Gauguin, this style featured bold line drawings and flat tints of color. The inspiration for this approach came from Japanese woodblock prints and stained glass, two formats that favored simplified art. Accordingly, the art of this style attempted to capture the essence of its subjects in a clear and accessible manner.

Scroll down to learn more about Cloisonnism and the artists who helped develop the style.

What is Cloisonnism?

Painting by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, “The Yellow Christ”, 1891 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Cloisonnism is a Post-Impressionist style characterized by flat areas of color and dark lines. It was developed by two French artists Émile Bernard and Louis Anquetin, who modeled the style after Japanese woodblock prints (a very popular collector’s item among artists of the time) and stained glass. Paul Gauguin later joined and produced some of the best-known examples of Cloisonnism, including The yellow Christ.

Art critic Édouard Dujardin named the style after the decorative technique cloisonnéwhich describes metalwork objects containing colored glass in wireframe structures.

What is Cloisonnism

Left: Hiroshige, “The Plum Garden at Kameido,” Edo, print 30, 1857 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Right: St. Peter on the Holy Crown of Hungary, 11th century (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Style Features

Flat colors

Painting by Louis Anquetin

Louis Anquetin, “Avenue de Clichy: Five O’Clock in the Evening”, 1887 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Instead of mixing colors to create a realistic model, cloisonnist painters preferred separate their colors into solids. Much of the inspiration for this aesthetic comes from Japanese woodblock prints, which often use a limited color palette and little or no modeling. This idea is considered a precursor to other modernist painting styles.

In Avenue de Clichy in Anquetin: Five O’Clock in the Eveningit colors the entire background a uniform blue and distinguishes the shapes with dark outlines.

Bold line drawing

Post-Impressionist painting by Emile Bernard

Émile Bernard, “Buckwheat harvesters”, 1888 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Another important characteristic of cloisonnist painting is the bold line drawing. Although not as prominent in Gauguin’s works (which tend to be more subtle in color and line), Bernard and Anquetin use thick outlines to define their forms and emphasize their presence on the canvas. This not only separates the subjects from the often blank backgrounds, but also gives the impression of a flatter, more simplistic figure.

Distorted perspective

Painting by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, “The Vision after the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with an Angel)”, 1888 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Many Cloisonnist works also feature distorted outlook. Instead of creating a realistic composition with a distinct foreground and background (for example), Gauguin and Bernard would arrange their figures in a way that resembles the flattened look of tapestries.

Important artists

Emile Bernard

Portrait of Emile Bernard

Émile Bernard, “Self-Portrait with a Portrait of Gauguin”, 1888 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

french artist Emile Bernard (1868 – 1941) was a prominent Post-Impressionist painter, best known for his work of the late 1880s and 1990s. Despite his young age at the time, he had clear and original ideas about painting, describing his desire to make art based on simplicity, not on individuality, and accessible to all.

Bernard had friendships with many other Post-Impressionists, including Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin and Louis Anquetin. He is credited with creating the cloisonnist style, which was later developed by Anquetin and Gauguin.

Post-Impressionist painting by Emile Bernard

Émile Bernard, “Two women on the bridge at Asnières”, 1887 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Paul Gauguin Self-Portrait

Paul Gauguin, “Portrait of the Artist with a Yellow Christ”, 1891 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

As one of the most important figures in modern art, Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) played a central role in the development of the Post-Impressionist art movement. His desire to create a pure type of art that captures the essence of his subjects inspired him to join Bernard and Anquetin and adopt the cloisonnist style.

During this time he produced The yellow Christ, which depicts Jesus on the cross with three Breton women seated around him. The color palette and streamlined shapes make it a key example of the style. He and Bernard would later form Synthetism, the successor to Cloisonnism.

Post impressionist painting by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, “The Night Café, Arles”, 1888 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Louis Anquetin

Self-portrait painting by Louis Anquetin

Louis Anquetin, “Self-portrait with a pipe”, 1892 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Although he is less well known than his contemporaries, Louis Anquetin (1861 – 1932) was an important member of the Post-Impressionist art movement. His work Avenue de Clichy: Five o’clock in the evening, is often seen as a model of the values ​​of the cloisonnist style, including flat tints of color and dark contour lines. In fact, this same piece is theorized to have inspired Van Gogh’s painting. Cafe terrace at night.

Painting by Louis Anquetin

Louis Anquetin, “An elegant woman at the Élysée Montmartre”, 1888 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

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