Paul Sérusier was born Louis-Paul-Henri Sérusier on 9 November 1864, in Paris. In his youth, he attended the Lycée Condorcet but, having graduated with a baccalaureate in letters in 1883, he decided to become an artist and enrolled at the Académie Julian in 1885. Whilst there, he met and befriended Maurice Denis. In 1888, Sérusier exhibited at the Salon for the first time. He would then travel to Pont-Aven, via Concerneau, where he met Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, who had laid the foundations for Synthetism with works such as Vision After the Sermon, 1888 (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). Later that year, Sérusier painted Bois d’Amour de Pont-Aven, now titled Le Talisman, 1888 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), an epiphanic composition that was innovative in its foregoing of three-dimensional perspective for flat, arbitrary colour and a bright, simplified palette. Sérusier would show the painting to his fellow students at the Académie Julian – Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Paul Ranson – founding the group, Les Nabis (‘the prophets’).
Sérusier spent the summers of 1889 and 1990 in Brittany, where he continued to work alongside Gauguin. He developed an affinity for Brittany and its inhabitants, returning to the region regularly to stay in Huelgoat and Châteauneuf-du-Faou over the coming years. Sérusier painted numerous paintings of Breton women and scenes of everyday life during the 1890s, all in a style that drew upon his interest in Japanese prints and Gauguin’s cloisonnism. Sérusier split his time between Brittany and Paris, returning to the French capital in winters and for exhibitions; Sérusier would show in the majority of the Nabi exhibitions between 1889 and 1896, many of which were titled Impressionist and Synthetist Paintings.
In 1896, Sérusier was introduced to theories of religious painting through his friend and fellow painter, Jan Verkade, who had discovered them at a Benedictine monastery in Beuron, Germany. Sérusier travelled to Beuron in 1898, where he was taught the hieratic theories of painting by the monk Desiderius Lenz, which focussed upon religious symbolism, sacred proportions and compositional geometry. Sérusier incorporated these concepts into his painting, simultaneously developing his complex theories of colour. He began to paint more religious subjects, alongside his everyday scenes of Brittany, from around 1904 – the same year he travelled to Italy with Denis. In 1908, he began to teach at the Académie Ranson, Paris. Sérusier exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants regularly from 1901, and would have his first solo exhibition at Galerie Druet, Paris, in 1919. Sérusier died on 6 October 1927 in Morlaix, Brittany.
Sérusier’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pont-Aven; Musée Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye; the Tate Collection, London.