Room 4: Gauguin + Pont-Aven School / Toulouse-Lautrec

In July 1886 Paul Gauguin left Paris on the first of many journeys, both within France and abroad. He was searching for a place to live simply and cheaply, away from the increasing industrialisation of the capital. Initially he travelled to the town of Pont-Aven in Brittany, western France. There he led a group of younger artists and, with Emile Bernard, developed a style known as Synthetism inspired by the pious rural community of the region. The paintings are dominated by large blocks of bright colour, emphasising exotic and spiritual themes. Many of these artists also favoured a technique where blocks of colour have dark, often black, outlines mimicking the visual effect of cloisonné enamel.

Unlike Gauguin and his followers, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec worked almost exclusively in Paris. His sources of inspiration lay in and around the cabarets and brothels of Montmartre, and his paintings are dominated by the performers and prostitutes with whom he felt a close affinity. His style is characterised by the use of bright flat colours, inspired by the Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) popular in 19th-century France. He also favoured a sketchy unfinished look, often leaving patches of canvas visible in the work.