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Pont Aven France Lures the Post-Impressionism Painters

The village of Pont-Aven in Brittany, France was once the centre of a vibrant international artists’ colony. Pont Aven not only attracted painters from France but also artists from all over Europe and North America.

Paul Gauguin wrote in 1888 the following words about Brittany:

I love Brittany. I find a certain wildness and primitiveness here. When my clogs resound on this granite soil, I hear the dull, matt, powerful tone I seek in my painting.

Interestingly, the first group of painters to arrive at Pont-Aven were American art students from Philadelphia.  Jean-Léon Gérôme, a prominant French Academic painter, encouraged his American students to go to Pont Aven to see and experience authentic French culture & landscapes.

Paul Gauguin Painting - Pont Aven Landscape
Paul Gauguin Painting – Pont Aven Landscape

Pont Aven France & the Famous Artists

In the 19th century, some significant post-impressionism artists gathered in Pont Aven. It was an ideal location for the artists as it was cheap but beautiful. The picturesque village, the Aven river, the traditional dress of the locals & lush countryside offered more than enough subject matter for the artists.

The post-impressionists established an active and vibrant artist colony around the 1860s and it remained active until the 1900s. The list of painters who spent time in the Pont Aven art colony is long. However, there were some notable post-impressionists who spent time here. They include Emile Bernard, Paul Serusier, Roderic O’Conor and Paul Gauguin.

The term “Pont-Aven School” refers to the artworks produced by the artists during their stay in Pont-Aven. Typically, the Pont Aven artworks feature bold colors, a flat appearance & elements of symbolism.  

 Henri Lebasque painting in Pont Aven
Henri Lebasque painting in Pont Aven

Paul Gauguin in Pont Aven, France

Paul Gauguin was one of the leaders in the Post-Impressionism art movement. He painted at the Pont-Aven art colony on several occasions between the years 1886 and 1894. It was here where he developed a new post-impressionism style called Synthetism. This new style used flat color, applying it without shading or any attempt to create depth.

Gauguin came to this region initially because it was cheap. It was an attractive destination for the financially struggling artist. Paul Gauguin first arrived in Pont Aven in 1886 and then again in 1888, 1889-90, and finally in 1894.  Overall, his painting flourished during his time here.

Emile Bernard & Louis Anquetin

Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin worked together with Gauguin experimenting in the new art style of Synthetism. However, they created their own different version, known as Cloisonnism. This form of painting features large areas of bold color bordered by thick black outlines. It resembles the medieval cloisonne enamel, hence its name.

Boats in Pont Aven -  Emile Bernard painting
Boats in Pont Aven – Emile Bernard painting

Paul Serusier

Paul Serusier was another follower of Gauguin. He also was one of the leaders in the  Nabis movement. It was at Pont-Aven that Serusier composed his famous artwork called “The Talisman”.

Places of Interest relating to the Artists

Pont-Aven in Brittany is a small commune still known for its rustic beauty. Just as it was once a haven for the post-impressionism artists, it is still a stunning place to visit. If you are traveling to Brittany, then pop into Pont Aven as there are plenty of things to do and see.

Pont Aven Town
Pont Aven Town photo by Jeanne Menjoulet (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Here is our list of the best things to do in Pont Aven.

1. View 20th-century French paintings at the Pont-Aven Museum

The museum of Pont-Aven was founded in 1985 to provide historical information about the post-impressionism painters who lived here in the second half of the 19th century. This museum also aims to highlight how these artists influenced a later generation of artists in the region.

The Pont-Aven Museum showcases around 850 artworks mostly by the painters of the Pont-Aven School. Here you will view paintings of the famous post-impressionism painters such as Émile Bernard, Paul Sérusier, Henri Moret and Paul Gauguin. Since these painters practiced Synthetism, the paintings in the museum tend to be bold and colorful. They also capture landscapes & people of Pont Aven and the nearby countryside.

For more information about current exhibitions , opening hours and tickets, press here.

2. Sail the Picturesque Aven River

For something different, explore the town and its beautiful surroundings by sailing on the Aven river. Guided boat rides are available every day departing from the town’s port. There is also the option of hiring a private boat. Another way to enjoy the river is by strolling along its flowery banks.

Aven river
Aven River – Photo by Michael Gaylard (CC BY 2.0)

3. Loose Yourself in the Picture Perfect Streets & Alleyways

Pont-Aven’s charm and beauty needs to be explored by foot. Promenade Xavier Grall runs parallel to the Aven river and passes gorgeous houses and lots of greenery. The Promenade des Moulins is another marked trail, leading you to the town’s historical and medieval watermills. Today only four of the original fourteen watermills remain.

The Grand Moulin de Poulaign is one of the four mills and has been coverted into a lovely restaurant.

Paul Gauguin captured one of these mills in his painting entitled: Watermill in Pont-Aven, 1894 (see below).

Paul Gauguin Painting - Pont Aven landscape
Watermill in Pont Aven – Paul Gauguin Painting
Pont Aven watermill
Pont Aven Watermill – Photo by Christine und Hagen Graf (CC BY 2.0)

4. Discover local artists and independent galleries

Pont-Aven continues to attract the artists. They have set up studios, shops and galleries all over the town. For all art lovers, there is a vast array of local art to discover and enjoy!

Pont Aven is a beautiful place to stay & to base yourself when traveling around Brittany. See below to view Pont Aven hotel options: