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The architect, Alfred Waterhouse, had originally wanted to be an artist, and is known to have studied the drawing manuals of James Duffield Harding and Samuel Prout. He put his skills as a watercolourist to good use in recording buildings and landscapes on tours of Britain and the Continent, and in creating exciting picturesque perspectives of his own building projects. From the late 1880s, he exhibited landscapes as well as his own architectural designs at the Royal Academy of Arts.
In 1886, Waterhouse exhibited a watercolour view of Chartres Cathedral at the Royal Academy, so marking a tour of Northern France that he had taken in the previous year. On that tour he had visited the Breton village of Pont-Aven, which since the 1860s had regularly attracted artists. However, his visit took place almost exactly a year before the arrival of Paul Gauguin, who attracted the colony of Post- Impressionist artists now most associated with Pont-Aven. Moreover, he recorded the exact view of the Bois d’Amour on the River Aven that, in 1888, would inspire Paul Sérusier to paint under Gauguin’s influence the famous landscape now known as The Talisman (Musée d’Orsay, Paris). As Maurice Denis later recorded, Gauguin gave Sérusier one lesson:
How do you see this tree...is it really green? Use green then, the most beautiful green on your palette. And that shadow, rather blue? Don’t be afraid to paint it as blue as possible. (see Hirschel B Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1968, page 101)
The resulting combination of anti-naturalistic colour and simplified form proved highly influential, especially among the Nabis, the group founded in 1889 by Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard with Denis and Sérusier. The fresh, naturalistic observations of Waterhouse represent the established tradition that Gauguin and his disciples intended to counter.