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Ernest Biéler

Les Tournesols, s.d. (ca 1910)
pencil, ink and watercolour on paper
47.5 x 65.0 cm
For Ernest Biéler, the year 1910 witnesses the opening of an important show in Neuchâtel devoted to his work, with 155 pieces exhibited at the Léopold Robert Galleries. That same year the artist executes this summery watercolour, a token of his interest in painting out of doors. It is an interest shared within the School of Savièse – a veritable meeting place and forum for the artists who are part of Biéler’s circle – and echoes the teaching of Barthélemy Menn at Geneva’s School of Fine Arts and the French impressionists’ own approach.

Les Tournesols (The Sunflowers) depicts seasonal flowers with particular care devoted to the graphic, decorative aspect of the subject. This way of working in almost uniform areas of colour in gouache or occasionally tempera whilst outlining all forms with a sharp neat line is typical of Biéler’s style from 1905 on. As the artist explains it, “An outline, flat tones, little modelling, clear contrasts, in short, simply the opposite of the approach that oil painting leads to”.

Like his canvas entitled L’Eau mystérieuse (Mysterious Water, 1911), which is considered a masterpiece of Art Nouveau in Switzerland, Les Tournesols, painted one year earlier, reveals the artist’s desire to focus on nature, the countryside, or scenes of rural life that have been preserved from modernity, progress and the new industrial world. Elegantly erect before a background of hydrangeas, two sunflowers glow with a golden light. Behind them, the thick clusters of flowers extend across the picture surface like a mosaic. The petals, treated without shadows, spread upwards to where they meet the patch of blue at the top of the composition. In the treatment of both the sky and the hydrangeas, a subtle variation on the hues by deepening them to a greater or lesser degree produces a kind of vibration in the composition that adds to the musicality of the picture.
Ernest Biéler, Les Tournesols, s.d. (ca 1910)