A Hidden Masterpiece Revealed
The Passion of Jesus Christ
Émile Henri Bernard
(1868 - 1941)
Hello & Welcome!
A Hidden Masterpiece is Found and Restored
After being sequestered for over 70 years, this dramatic work of art by acclaimed French Impressionist, Émile Henri Bernard, is ready for public viewing.
Painted in the early years of the 20th century, this expansive artwork reflects Bernard's relationship to Christianity and is the epitome of his artistic exploration during his later years as an accomplished artist.
The Passion of Jesus Christ video
Watch this video to learn the story of this masterpiece.
Influences on this great artist
Museums and galleries all over the word display the work of French Symbolist / Post-Impressionist painter Émile Bernard.
Bernard's Artistic Beginnings
The Pont-Aven School
His body of artwork reflects diverse and influential expressions of style and subject matter. In his early years, he embraced Cloisonnism, painting with bold colors and flat forms separated by dark contours, which contrasted the non-delimitation of the Impressionists.
He developed relationships with other master painters, including Vincent van Gogh, Eugéne Boch, and Paul Gauguin, who were all fellow practitioners of Cloisonnism. Bernard, Gauguin, and other notable artists gathered in Brittany at a place called Pont-Aven in the summer of 1888.
These artists collectively became known as the Pont-Aven School. They exchanged ideas and spent many hours drawing and painting the beautiful countryside with its natural colors and images.
In 1893 Bernard published the now-famous letters between himself and van Gogh (held at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York) that illuminate how both were highly influenced by the Bible's teachings. [notation 2]
Toward Religious Symbolism
"Christian Essence and Divine Language"
These letters also describe Bernard's summer of 1889, a time of great religious discovery for him while he worked alone in Le Pouldu, France. During this time Bernard began to paint many canvasses with Christian symbolism. Several are on display at St. Joseph's parish church in Pont-Aven, adjacent to rue Emile Bernard.
Bernard frequently wrote about his bond with this style of religious symbolism. He often referenced that his work was of a "Christian essence and divine language." [notation 3]
After the death of their mutual friend van Gogh in 1890, Bernard's friendship with Gauguin began to falter. Feeling alienated, Bernard left the European art scene and moved to Egypt in 1893, living there for the next 8 years.
While abroad he shifted his creative energies toward the techniques of the Old Masters of the Renaissance. Bernard was drawn to the old Venetian style, which led him to progressively realistic representations of images.
The Artist's Masterwork
The Return Home
After teaching and traveling in Egypt and the Near East, he returned to Paris in 1901. Three years later Bernard settled in Tonnerre, where his granddaughter still lives. Around this time he likely began developing the ideas for his masterpiece, "The Passion of Jesus Christ."
Émile Bernard's background in history, religion, philosophy and literature, combined with his great technical skill, make his paintings powerful. He died 16 April 1941 in his Paris studio at the age of 72.
Discovering a Masterpiece
This compelling masterpiece, "The Passion of Jesus Christ," reportedly was obtained by an art dealer in Paris after the death of Bernard. It may have been removed from the painter's studio apartment upon settlement of his estate. No records have yet been found.
A purchase by an artist
The first known owner, Uno Vallman (1913 - 2004), an acclaimed Swedish painter, purchased the work from Morgan Katzorek at the Morgan Gallery in Stockholm around 1953. Katzorek, who died in 2014, and his wife Ulla, bought many paintings during monthly trips to Paris in the 1950s.
Restoring a damaged legacy
Vallman received the painting in damaged condition. By the time it came into his possession, the painting had been folded in two areas. And the current owner of the painting, Uno's nephew Leif Wallman, received the painting in a rolled condition.
Uno reported that the original damage was done in order to transport and conceal it from Nazi pillaging during their World War II occupation of Paris.[notation 7]
Uno Vallman kept the work until 1970 when he took it to the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm for re-lining and restoration. Due to the extent of the damage, however, the restoration was left incomplete.
Proving the Artist was Émile Bernard
The Evolution of a Masterpiece
"The Passion of Jesus Christ" is not signed nor was it described in print during Bernard's life. But compelling evidence exists to prove the artist is Bernard. And perhaps the faithful Bernard was following the medieval tradition of not signing religious artwork to keep the focus on the glory of God.
In 1953, the respected artist and owner of the painting, Uno Vallman, along with his dealer examined the piece and verified its origin as an Émile Bernard work. They determined that it was started in the late 1920s and likely took many years to develop and complete. [notation 7]
A restoration curator, France Bonnimond-Dumont, at the Louvre in Paris reviewed and analyzed the painting and confirmed [notation 4], in collaboration with Bernard's granddaughter, Dr. Lorédana Harscoet-Marie, that the work was indeed painted by Bernard. [notation 3]
The painting was taken to the Swedish Government Forensics Laboratory in 2001, which reviewed it by ultraviolet light for origination. Results indicated that no painting existed below this one and that it was created in the first half of the 20th century.
In 2014, Dr. Jean-Jacques Luthi (De l'Académie des Sciences d'Outre-Mer) added the painting to his official catalogue of Bernard's work as item #1690, "La Passion de Jésus-Christ–1935." [notation 5]
But even more compelling proof exists in the form of a Maquette.
Smaller Version of the Painting
The maquette, a composite "sketch"
In 1926 Émile Bernard painted a similar, but smaller work called "La Vierge au Pied de la Croix," an authenticated painting on lined canvas on plywood (47cm x 64cm). It is item #1187 in Luthi's catalog. This smaller "sketch" has been on display at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Brest in France since 1991. It bears Bernard's signature in the lower left portion of the painting.
Experts have thought all along that this compelling motif, "La Vierge au Pied de la Croix," was one of a kind. Now, we believe this smaller version is Bernard's composition sketch (a maquette) for the more expansive depiction, "The Passion of Jesus Christ."
"The fact that the same technique was used in the painting from the Musée des Beaux-Arts, with his signature, underscores the strong evidence that this [larger] painting was created by Bernard," writes restoration expert Aiqin Zhou. [notation 1]
Granddaughter Confirms Authenticity
She immediately recognizes her grandfather's work
When Bernard's granddaughter, Lorédana Harscoët-Marie, saw the painting for the first time, she immediately recognized it as her grandfather's work. [notation 3] Not only did the work show the rose-colored primer that Bernard traditionally used (unlike most painters who used white or gray), but the color palette matched other painting he produced in the 1920s and 1930s.
After she saw the photos of the smaller maquette that bears his signature, she upheld that it was his sketch for the larger work. He "always make a sketch or smaller versions before he did a final painting," said Lorédana. [notation 3]
Various grades of sandpaper were used to repair the surface.
Cleaning and removing 70 years of neglect
Restoring and Re-Creating a Masterpiece
After more than 10 years of research, the Pacific Arts Collection began a full restoration in September 2011 to guarantee that this important masterpiece will be preserved and available for grand display.
Re-Create vs Restore & Repair
This work is a re-creation of the painting rather than merely a repair and restoration. Restoration uses water color or acrylic rather than oil colors so the original work can be distinguished from the restoration. A re-creation complements the skills evidenced in the original artist. The present owner, Leif Wallman, specifically requested that "Artist Colors" brand oil paints be used for this project.
1970 Restoration Incomplete
The 1970 restoration work resulted in incorrect brush strokes, inconsistent colors, and areas where image quality does not match the original.
Restoration expert Aiqin Zhou had to remove the previous attempts to repair, restore, and re-create parts of the work.
Art Historian and Restoration Expert
At the age of 12, restoration expert Aiqin Zhou studied Western art with a private master in Shanghai, China. She continued her studies at the Art Institute of Shanghai where she studied aesthetics, Chinese classical philosophy, literature, music, and painting, along with Western art critique, philosophy, and art history.
Twenty years ago, Zhou moved to San Francisco where she entered the Academy of Art and earned a Masters of Fine Arts (oil portraiture and landscape). She volunteered her professional skills at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which helped her gain a deeper knowledge of Western art history. Zhou also expanded her knowledge of Asian art beyond Chinese art to include the art of Japan, Korea, and India by working at the Asian Art Museum.
With 40 years of experience, Aiqin Zhou unites Eastern and Western perspective, knowledge, and her skill to her work. "In my research for restoration projects, I attempt to enter the mind of the artist and see things from the artist's eyes," Zhou writes. [notation 1]
Being Faithful to the Artist's Style
"I studied the artist's life and why he created this painting," Zhou writes. "The fact that so many different styles [were used] over the course of Bernard's artistic career made it important for me to study all of [these] styles." [notation 1]
She began the re-creation with a medium-to-light cleaning using a special cleaner and a lightly dampened soft sponge to remove much of the top grime and deeper layers of dirt that has accumulated from years of concealment and poor care. After the initial cleaning, Zhou was able to observe the work's original color, style, and skill.
Being Faithful to the Artist's Style
"Using a magnifying glass, I could see the missing colors and how much damage there was," says Zhou. "The images of soldiers in the foreground were obscured by the effects of time and deterioration. However, looking at the man in the lower left corner of the painting, whose portrait was barely damaged and therefore barely restored, I could see the artist's great skill. The artist had expressed this man's image with profound anguish. Because I could see so much of the artist's original work in the man's face, I could see what the recreation needed to accomplish."[notation 1]
Cleaning Process - Zhou began the next cleaning process by using a mixture of cleaners and solvents, such as Gemsol, turpentine, and acetone. The cleaning process was important to continuing to reveal the artist's original colors, brush strokes, technique, and skill.
Repairing the Damage - To fill the chipped spaces in the canvas, Zhou first used various grades of sandpaper to even the surface. Next, she applied gesso to fill the spaces and repeated using sandpaper and kept cleaning the surface.
Re-creating the Colors - In doing this restoration, the key was to find the artist's original style and colors–to be faithful to him. Zhou had done extensive research to ascertain the colors originally used by Bernard. She used about 80 "Artist Colors" of the highest quality, oil colors similar to what had been used by Bernard. She mixed the new colors to blend, harmonize, and match the original colors.
Because the painting required oil colors for restoration and re-creation, it needed more than six months to dry. Afterward, Zhou used a soft 100% cotton chenille wash mitt to remove any dust before varnishing the work.
She selected Museum Gamvar Picture Varnish for the two applications because the varnish is clear, bright, and thin, which facilitates drying. Museums also use this varnish.
The initial varnishing needed to be thoroughly dry before repeating the process for a second coat. To convey and ultimately reveal the artist's life force in the painting, Zhou applied each varnish coat to interpret and follow meticulously the artist's unique painting technique.
Over the course of more than ten years of research assessment, the most relevant documentation of "The Passion of Jesus Christ" painting has been consolidated.
The painting has been authenticated as an unsigned Émile Bernard masterpiece. Here is a review of the information sources used:
William F. Chamberlain
Unlikely Art Dealer
William (Bill) Chamberlain, raised in Southern California, graduated from California State College Long Beach with degrees in Civil and Electrical Engineering. Upon graduating, he began working in the computer field and developing software support systems while pursuing a graduate degree in Business from Golden Gate University. Later he received a Certificate in Healthcare Management from USC. In 1974, he started and continues to operate a technology and software development company.
In 1996, while working with a client that took him to Sweden, Chamberlain was introduced to and befriended Uno Vallman, a Swedish artist and collector of fine art. Uno showed Chamberlain a sculpture by Paul Gauguin called “The Wooden Box”. Reportedly a gift by the Nobel family for Vallman’s work during WWII helping Jewish girls escape Nazi occupation in France. Knowing of its’ current value, Vallman asked Chamberlain to help him sell the work of art.
Chamberlain created a presentation video, history, and photo album of the sculpture and began making connections in the art world unfamiliar to him. The sculpture was sold to a collector and now resides in a private museum in Los Angeles. Upon Chamberlain’s return to Sweden, Uno unveiled another work of art. Folded, creased, and severely damaged was a 7.5’ x 9.5’ dramatic painting entitled “The Passion of Jesus Christ; said to be by French, post-impressionist artist Emile Bernard. Once again asking for his assistance, Chamberlain had the painting authenticated as an original by Bernard and restored to its original beauty.
It has been 18 years since Chamberlain committed to this project with many trips to Paris, Pont Aven, Brest, Copenhagen, London, Stockholm, Dublin, Lille, Tonnerre, Roubaix and New York. Even with his acquired extensive knowledge of Bernard and his entry into the world of art, Chamberlain still remains an unlikely art dealer; yet, he is fully committed to fulfilling his promise to find the right venue for The Passion of Jesus Christ for all to enjoy.
in Search of Home for
Recovered, Restored & Revealed Masterpiece
Oakland, CA 3-22-18 . . . While in search for a home to display this once sequestered masterpiece, the mystery surrounding The Passion of Jesus Christ by French post-impressionist artist Emile Henri Bernard is as intriguing as the eccentric artist. With the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Bernard’s birth, interest in the artist is on the rise with the discovery of this painting and others thought to have been hidden or stolen during the Nazis’ occupation of Paris.
The recovery of The Passion of Jesus Christ began in 2000 when William Chamberlain, owner of Pacific Arts Collection was shown the painting by his friend, artist and art collector Uno Vallman, who had purchased it in the 1950s from the Stockholm Morgan Gallery.
“Uno shared this folded, creased and damaged 7.5’ x 9.5’ piece of art claiming it was an Emile Bernard, though it was not signed,” explains Chamberlain.
Chamberlain located Bernard’s granddaughter, Dr. Lorédana Harscoet-Maire of Tonnerre, France who has made it her life’s work to find the artworks and letters of her grandfather that had disappeared during the 1940 Nazi’s occupation of Paris. Lorédana immediately recognized the painting as her grandfathers' evident by the rose-colored primer and the color palette that matched other paintings he had done in the 1920s/30s. Seeing the deep creases supported Loredana’s suspicion that his artwork had been sequestered or stolen; and that this piece had never been viewed since hiding such a large piece would have been difficult if framed. She attributed the absence of his signature to him saying that a great artist didn’t always sign their spiritual art because it was God’s work and the focus was on the glory of God.
Further authentication came from a smaller version of the painting signed/dated 1926 known as The Maquette discovered at the Musee de Beaux Arts, Brest, France. Restoration and Bernard expert from the Louvre Paris, France Bonnimond-Dumont, said Bernard was known to do several paintings of the same subject and often painted a smaller version of a larger painting. She too confirmed the authenticity of the painting as an Emile Bernard.
Restoration was given to San Francisco Bay Area expert Aiqin Zhou taking 2-1/2 years to complete. “With it authenticated and restored, I now had a piece of art, a true masterpiece, worthy of being shown to the world,” says Chamberlain.
Chamberlain made numerous trips to Paris and the surrounding areas with visits to Bernard’s studio locations to unravel the story of this masterpiece and Bernard, a complex man known for his experimentation in art forms, inquisitive nature and his colorful lifestyle that included extensive travel, a fascination with brothels, two wives, and several love affairs.
As more research was done more questions arose. Did his mistress-turned wife, Andree Fort or his children orchestrate the disappearance of this painting and Bernard’s other work? Was there collaboration with the Nazi’s for profit or perhaps survival? How did he reconcile his many religious works that show a devotion to God while engaged in infidelity? Was the realism shown in his nude portraits of a 20-year-old woman from a brothel said to be the love of his life what influenced him to return to a classical, literal style of painting as seen in
The Passion of Jesus Christ ?
Even with these unanswered questions Chamberlain’s quest remains to find the rightful home for The Passion of Jesus Christ . . . and perhaps then, Emile Henri Bernard may gain his much sought and desired recognition that was overlooked during his lifetime.
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CONTACT: Katherine E. Sansone, SANSONE+ PR
Misunderstood Master Artist or Eccentric Egotist?
“At the moment, 1918( I am fifty years old), I have produced about 2,000 paintings, 20 books, novels, criticism; nearly 1,000 woodcuts and etchings; more than 100,000 verses and more than 3,000 drawings.
I have been innovative in furniture, sculpture and tapestrydesign. I introduced Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh. I have run several art magazines, visited 10 nations, more than 100 museums, read almost all the masterpieces. I have spared nothing to know and make love and defend the beautiful.
Yet I am almost unknown.
I am sold the celebrity we give to the maker of trifle. If my friends talk about me, it is with fear and care. It seems they are afraid. I always acted frankly regarding talent.
What did I do to the world so that it pushes me away?
All that I revealed has yet succeeded and the current arts are living my discoveries ... So is it because I always asked for justice for others that there is nothing left but injustice for me?
My God, if it's your will, let it be done.”
- Emile Bernard
Emile Henri Bernard, a French, post-impressionist artist, was eccentric, egotistical and a colorful character. He surrendered to his desires feeding his need for independence and exploration in the arts; personal wants and pleasures. Peers of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Paul Gauguin, Bernard is associated with Cloisonnism and Synthetism, yet he was never given significant credit for his work in these styles nor his contribution to the art world in other forms.
The question remains, did he not receive the accolades because of his lack of ability or because of his relentless curiosity that challenged and questioned current thinking and sensibility? Was he not focused with too many interests/talents to only pursue one discipline? Was he a better writer, critic or essayist than painter? Were his amorous adventures and fascination with brothels and prostitutes, a constant distraction?
Art historians have their own perception and opinion. Some think he was better than those of his peers while others feel he has been positioned correctly in history. As more of his work is discovered, some say his revenge for being discounted while alive is now on the horizon. Whether he ever receives a position of notoriety, fame, and appreciation for what he brought to the world of art, there is no denying the life of Emile Bernard is one of importance, influence, and intrigue and rightfully occupies a place in the history of French art and painting.
1868, April 26: Born in Lille, France to a father employed in the textile industry.
In 1885, he created his first important work, the woodblock, La Nativite.
(Photo of fellow artists.)
Expelled from Corman for insubordination, his parents tried to get him involved in the family business, but he refused. He toured Brittany, where he was enamored by the tradition and landscape. He later went to Pont-Aven to see Paul Gauguin, who did not recognize Bernard’s talent. Visiting the exhibition of Société des Artistes Independants, he saw the works of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. (photo of Corman Studio)
While his parents rented a house in Asnieres, Emile exhibited Pointillist works and was invited by Seurat to his studio. Bernard and Anquetin broke from Neo-Impressionism, painting flat color areas with strong black contours (outlines). Returning to Brittany, he began creating stained glass windows. In December, Vincent van Gogh arranged an exhibition of paintings of his work, Bernard’s, Anquetin’s and Lautrec’s. Bernard sold his first painting.
At an exhibition at Salon des Independants, an art critic coined Bernard’s and Anquetin’s new style Cloisonnism. (Sample of Cloisonnism by Bernard.)
Bernard did not support the love affair. He questioned whether Gauguin’s love was received willingly or his sister was pressured. It was one of many wedges in their friendship.
(Lottery ticket by Emile Bernard.)
• January: Gauguin was hailed as the leader of Symbolism and initiator of the Synthetist movement. Offended for not giving him credit and believing that his style played a part in the development of Gauguin's style, Bernard broke with Gauguin. He continued to show work at different exhibitions separating himself and his work from Gauguin. (Caricature of Gauguin.)
• July: He met and fell in love with 20-year-old Hannenah Saati, from a Syrian Christian Family. He began living like an Arab in an enchanting traditional home.
The Saati family was taken with Bernard and encouraged his visits. It is questioned whether they used their daughter to charm Emile. When Hannenah’s mother died and the father, crippled and unable to work, Bernard’s chivalrous spirit felt compelled to oversee the impoverished family. He then married 20-year-old Hannenah knowing his family would not be pleased. (Portrait of Hannenah by Bernard)
First son, Oste was born. He was commissioned to do frescoes for a chapel in Cairo. His sister, who he had always been close to, is ill with tuberculosis and moves to Cairo where she dies.
Finances were difficult so he moved his family to Spain where Hannenah became ill with tuberculosis, though survived.
Birth of second son; moved back to Cairo and moved in with his wife’s family. Both sons died of tuberculosis.
Third son, Odilon, was born. Bernard published the first of 17 volumes of poetry while doing many paintings of life in Cairo. (Sample from series.)
Hannenah. He returned to Cairo accompanied by his mistress Andree. (Portrait of Andree Fort.)
(Photo of the five Bernard children; Milandre, Irene, Elisabeth, Michel-Ange, Antoine.)
The ideas of Emile Bernard were those of the Symbolist movement but the path he followed in pursuit of great art was often disrupted by his restless and versatile genius, his travels and inability to land in one place, his ego driven and lurid lifestyle, which was in conflict with his Catholicism, making it difficult to assess his talent and prominence in his time. To this day he is recognized as a painter, poet, theorist, writer, critic, book illustrator, teacher and editor.
Who is to say that is not greatness?