Today we put our magnifying glass on the Talisman painted in 1888 by the French painter Paul Sérusier. A painting that can be described as prophetic, at the origin of the Nabi movement.

Art Shortlist
by Thibault de Watrigant - January 8, 2021

The Talisman, Paul Sérusier, 1888, oil on wood, 27 x 21 cm, Musée d'Orsay Paris

A painting dictated by Paul Gauguin

During a summer stay in 1888 in Pont-Aven, Paul Sérusier rubbed shoulders with and was inspired by another Paul important to the history of art: Paul Gauguin. When he returned to Paris, Sérusier showed him to his artist friends Paul-Élie Ranson and François Xavier Roussel. The Talisman was the starting point of the Nabi movement, which means "prophet" in Hebrew, a movement that literally overturned modern art.

This painting is a new attempt, the beginnings of a form of abstraction. If one looks closely at this painting, one can find elements of the landscape faithfully represented: a side path, a row of beech trees, a river and a mill. To help him paint this painting Paul Gauguin said to Paul Sérusier: "How do you see this tree, it is very green? So put some green, the most beautiful green on your palette; and this shadow, rather blue? Don't be afraid to paint it as blue as possible." These are tips that have been of paramount importance in the development of this masterpiece, which deserves to be focused on!

A painting to stand out from impressionism

This new generation of artists wished to take a step back from impressionism, which they considered to be losing momentum. Instead of proposing a mimetic conception of landscapes and light variations, the Nabis decided to focus on color using large flat tints. This painting is therefore an unprecedented liberation of color. This painting has become over the years an inspiring painting for many artists who see it as a liberation from painting towards purity, autonomy and abstraction. A quote from Maurice Denis in 1914 describes this new spirit in painting marvelously: "To remember that a painting, before being a battle horse, a naked woman or any anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a certain order assembled".

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A belatedly successful painting

Long considered as a lid for cigar boxes, Paul Sérusier's Talisman, which measures only 27 cm by 21 cm, has long belonged to Maurice Denis. The latter had not even had it framed. To keep it, he only put it on his desk for years. However, from 1921, this painting took on a whole new dimension when Paul Sérusier published his ABC of painting. These writings influenced movements such as Fauvism, Expressionism and Abstraction. A small format painting on wood, but a great painting by its impact on the history of art!

To admire it, you will have to go to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris where this painting has been kept since 1985.