His name sounds vaguely familiar, one of those names that flesh out a list of friends of (insert name of famous artist here) but the French artist Paul-Emile Colin (1867-1949) merits our attention for something more than the company he kept. And what company it was. Gauguin, Serusier, Maurice Denis, Emile Bernard and the others who formed the School of Pont-Aven, a group of painters who used bright colors, boldly applied and not shading or Western perspective.
When the railway line from Paris to Quimper opened in 1862 artists discovered the Breton coast. Connection to a rail line was the surest guarantee of popularity, especially given the rough state of roads at that time. Brittany had been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years but not for the habitability of its climate. Winters were hard and the people struggled to farm the rocky soil and fish the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. Colin's Trois pommiers en hiver exists in a different universe than Emile Bernard's Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour although they were inspired by the same locale. Madeleine dreaming in the forest of love is redolent of spring and symbolism. Those three apple trees, bare branches at the mercy of the cold, look as though the artist and possibly all of Brittany was beseeching the sun to return quickly. The woman in Colin's Resources d'hiver could be Madeleine's grandmother. Bent with age, she is blown along by the cold wind that increases the travail of carrying her kindling..
"A fairground barker, a troubadour, or a pirate" able to "exude energy from every pore" was how Colin described his famous friend Paul Gauguin. The two met at Le Pouldu, a fishing village on the Breton coast in 1890. Later in his life, Colin experimented with color under the influence, he admitted, of Gauguin's example. But Colein did not need color for the effects he wanted in his pictures and it added little to its impact. He was determined to compose line-defined images and lithography was a medium that suited him very well. It also opened a niche for him int he group that surrounded Gauguin at Pont-Aven. It is intriguing to consider that he acknowledged Gauguin as a influence when the older man was anything but a skilled draftsman.
Though Vincent van Gogh was not at Pont-Aven, by the time Colin was there many of the artists had seen van Gogh's work and there is a similar mood and technique in Colin's work. The vagaries of the art market being what they are, if only the name of van Gogh was attached to these impressive works they would be much better known and much more expensive to acquire.
Depending on who told the story, Colin was either a medical doctor who amued himself by making art during his vacations or a man with a passion for art who needed to support himself with more certain employment. By 1901 colin had achieved enough success with his engravings that he felt confident enough for the future that he was able to give up practicing medicine to become a full-time artist.
Images: courtesy of Bibliotheque de Institut nationale d'histoire et de l'art, Paris.
1.Pauk Colin - Trois pommiers en hiver (Three Apple Trees in Winter), no date given
2. Paul Colin - Resources d'hiver (Winter Resources), 1902
2. Paul Colin - Eglise de Galluis (Church in Galluis), no date given