The commentary of the cover

The Landscape As a State of Mind by Pierre-Marie Dumont

Paul Sérusier (1864–1927) was the “thinker” behind a group of artists that initially formed around Paul Gauguin in Pont-Aven, Brittany, and adopted the name Nabis (from the Hebrew for “enlightened one,” “prophet”). In the vanguard of the Symbolist movement, at the dawn of the 20th century the Nabis set out to “free painting from slavery” to both academic Realism and Impressionism. As we discover here in this harvest landscape painted in 1903, their interpretation of nature motifs is profoundly spiritual. Inspired by Baudelaire’s poem Correspondances, “the Nabi with the gleaming beard” (as Maurice Denis nicknamed his friend Paul Sérusier) here celebrates nature as a temple where human life makes its way through “a forest of symbols.”

The landscape on the cover of this month’s Magnificat is thus a revelation of a higher reality. The contrasting colors and layered registers provide the perspective. Metaphorically, the three women in Breton headdress in the foreground embody no less than the most fundamental questions about the human condition, those that Paul Gauguin had already posed in his famous “mad” painting of 1898. The first woman, hand on hip, who contemplates human destiny, symbolizes the question, “Where do we come from?”; the second, cutting the wheat, “What are we?”; and the third, binding the sheaves, “Where are we going?” The verdant background, deliberately—and ­derisively—rendered in impressionistic brushstrokes, evokes the created world as the uninitiated at first sight perceive it: “To move from error to truth, we must pass through ignorance,” the artist said. But here, the painting is submerged in the golden waves of an ocean of wheat. It symbolizes the fusion of divine glory, the first and last word of creation, and the destiny of humanity in history, a destiny that has been sown and promised for harvesting.  The wheat ready to be cut and bound in sheaves is the forerunner of that immense, luminous, vibrant multitude advancing to merge into the glory of God. Amidst the grain ripe for the sickle of death, poppies bloom in discreet red splashes—a reminder that this harvest is a glorious one, for it was saved by the blood of a God who, himself once cut down, has triumphed over death.

 

The Harvest, Paul Sérusier (1864–1927), Musée d’Arts, Nantes, France. © Bridgeman Images.