Emile Bernard was born in Lille but his family moved to Paris when he was a child. The young man is first enrolled in Decorative Arts School drawing lessons and from 1884 he is integrated into Fernand Cormon workshop. There he became friend with Louis Anquetin or Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. But he is fired for indiscipline. He keeps on learning how to paint but in a different way, more instinctive and solitary one, based on old masters and nature study. He undertakes a 6 months trip to Normandy and Bretagne.
Emile Bernard is most well known for having created, with Louis Anquetin a visual, inspirating vocabulary. In 1888, he met Paul Gauguin in Pont-Aven and this is a decisive meeting. They work together on a new kind of art, powerful thanks to simplification and eloquence of its forms, a language in which the painter is sovereign. A new approach of real is born, called “cloisonnisme”, “synthétisme” or “symbolism” which will be developed in the next century.
Emile Bernard has always, all his life during, wrote about painting theory, questioned the past and debate with the other artists. In 1891, he definitely no longer talk to Gauguin : he won't forgive him for attributing to himself
He travels to Egypt and stay there during 10 years, marrying a young Egyptian girl. His art starts to become interested in philosophic and religious questions.
Back in France, he took under his wing the young painter André Maire who will also be his son-in-law. He creates a journal : La Rénovation Esthétique. He fights against avant-gardes and would prefer a return to old masters. His texts explains this turnaround comparing his young years.
In 2015, Orsay organized an exhibition dedicated to Emile Bernard.