Dates: 1888-1905

Origin: France

Key Artists: Émile Bernard

A style of painting that developed out of Cloisonnism and formed a current within Symbolism. It was practised by Paul Gauguin and his circle in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The term derives from the French verb synthétiser (to synthesize) and is based on the idea that art should be a synthesis of three features: the outward appearance of natural forms, the artist’s feelings about his subject and purely aesthetic considerations of line, colour and form. The term was coined in 1889 when Gauguin and Emile Schuffenecker organized an exhibition entitled L’Exposition de peintures du groupe impressioniste et synthétiste in the Café Volpini at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. The confusing title acknowledged the artists’ roots in Impressionism, with its adherence to natural forms and the depiction of light, while at the same time highlighting their more recent attempts to abandon nature as the focal point of art. Although realistic, tangible subjects served as their starting-point, the artists distorted these images in order to express more clearly certain moods or interpretations. In 1890 Maurice Denis summarized the goals of Synthetism: ‘It is well to remember that a picture before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.’ However, Denis preferred the label ‘Symbolism’ for the new style.

Boyle-Turner, Caroline. “Synthetism.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 11 Mar. 2010 <;

Émile Bernard


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