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The Pont-Aven School (Breton: Skol Pont Aven; French: École de Pont-Aven) was an influential art movement originating from the small town of Pont-Aven, located in the south of Brittany, France.

The Pont-Aven School was formed by a group of artists including Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, Paul Sérusier and multiple other artists from both western Europe and north America, but the most highlighted artist of this movement is Paul Gauguin[1], considered leader of the movement. It was active in the town from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The Pont-Aven School's style was characterized by its bold colour palette, simplified forms, and flat decorative surfaces, as well as traditional elements from the town of Pont-Aven, like beautiful landscapes and elements of Breton culture. It played an important role on the development of the larger Synthetism art movement.



The region of Brittany, today located in northwestern France, has inspirated many artists for centuries, principally due to its picturesque towns and cities, as well as its natural beauty. The Pont-Aven School began to emerge in the mid-1880s, when Paul Gauguin first visited the commune of Pont-Aven. Pont-Aven is a relatively small village in the south of Brittany, in the Finistere department. Paul Gauguin particularly chose this village as his main source of inspiration because tourism had increased in the rest of the Brittany region. He was looking for a special place that was not polluted with tourists and commercial activity. That's why he felt drawn to the town's scenery and its traditional culture. Gauguin soon became a leader among the artist colony that was founded in Pont-Aven, and he encouraged them to experiment with new styles and techniques. The city of Pont-Aven then became an important hotspot of international artists. In modern times, Pont-Aven is still a small town, with less than 3k residents, so this movement left a truly important legacy there. The town still attracts artists and art lovers, and the Musée des Beaux Arts de Pont-Aven houses a permanent collection dedicated to the Pont-Aven School. This is also reflected in popular culture: Pont-Aven is often nicknamed the "la cité des peintres"[2], which translates to "the city of the painters".

General History[]

The artists of the Pont-Aven School united under various art disciplines and values. One of the main ones was its rejection towards Naturalism in art. They believed that their artworks must not try to replicate the beauty of the natural world and instead they preferred to simplify natural elements like fields, grass, trees, forests, plants, etc. The Pont-Aven School is best known for its development of Synthetism, which shares the same principle of anti-naturalism. The first international artists to arrive in Pont-Aven were a group of American art students from Philadelphia, including Henry Bacon, Robert Wylie, C. J. Way, Earl Shinn, and Howard Roberts[3]. They were followed by other French and American artists, including Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, and Émile Schuffenecker. Paul Gauguin in particular had an important influence on the movement and many of those other artists were inspired by his works. He became the leader of the art movement in the late 1880s, and he encouraged the other artists to find uniqueness and experiment with new styles and tecniques, which eventually led to the creation of Synthetism. Synthetism was based on the idea that art should be influenced by multiple subjects. In this case, Synthetism was inspired by Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and traditional Japanese art. In 1889, Paul Gauguin organized an important exhibition of Impressionist and Synthetist art in Paris. The exhibition was unsuccessful and was deemed an economical disaster, but it helped to introduce the Pont-Aven School to a wider audience. In fact, some people argue Paul Gauguin's artworks were not well appreciated by mainstream society until various years after he passed away[4]. Eventually, the The Pont-Aven School began to decline in the early 1890s. Paul Gauguin, who was the leader of the movement, decided to leave Brittany to visit Tahiti, where he hoped to become richer, and he ultimately moved there on the 1st of April of 1891. That marked the downfall of the Pont-Aven School, and many of its members abandoned their hopes to continue with the art movement.


Some visuals prominent in the artworks of the Pont-Aven School include:

  • Peasant life and traditional lifestyles
  • The everyday life of Breton peasants in the 1880s-1900s
  • Natural landscapes: fields, forests, rivers, rural places
  • Elements of Breton culture (Breton mythology, traditional costumes)
    • Korrigans (Breton mythological creature similiar to elves and fairies)
  • Bonfires
  • Cottages
  • Elements of Catholicism (Angels, saints, etc.)
  • Natural, muted color palette
  • Synthetic art style
  • Simplified forms and human figures
  • Flat decorative surfaces



  • Paul Gauguin
  • Robert Wylie
  • Émile Bernard
  • Charles Laval
  • Émile Schuffenecker
  • Jacob Meijer de Haan
  • Władysław Ślewiński
  • Paul Sérusier
  • Armand Séguin
  • Charles Filiger
  • Maxime Maufra
  • Jan Verkade
  • Mogens Ballin
  • Henry Moret
  • Ernest Ponthier de Chamaillard
  • Gustave Loiseau
  • Émile Jourdan
  • Jens Ferdinand Willumsen
  • Roderic O'Conor
  • Maurice Denis
  • Robert Polhill Bevan
  • Franck C. Penfold
  • Cuno Amiet