As a young man Claude-Émile Schuffenecker was a pupil of Grellet, Paul Baudry and Carolus-Duran, but he did not immediately follow up his artistic vocation. Working in a stockbroker's to make a living, he met Gaugin, who was in exactly the same situation. They both abandoned security for the artistic adventure and remained friends, though a modest inheritance enabled Schuffenecker to begin a small collection of works of art. In 1883 he gained a licence to teach art in schools and colleges and went to work at the lycée of Vannes. He gave up teaching in 1914. In 1883 he attended the Académie Colarossi, and he met Manet, Pissarro and Mallarmé. In 1886 he introduced Émile Bernard to his friend Gaugin, a meeting that led to `cloisonnism' and the dispute about primacy that arose from it. He joined Gaugin again near Pont-Aven, Brittany, and in 1887 stayed in Étretat and Yport, where he lodged Gaugin and entertained Van Gogh. About 1892 he joined the Rose + Cross ( Rose + Croix) movement and collaborated with Émile Bernard on the esoteric review Le Coeur (). In 1893 he joined Madame Blavatsky's theosophical movement.
He exhibited for the first time at the Salon des Artistes Français of 1877, then in 1884 at the Salon des Indépendants, of which he was a co-founder. In 1886 he exhibited at the 8th and last exhibition of the Impressionists and in 1888 with Gaugin at the `synthesist' exhibition organised by Theo van Gogh at Boussaud et Valadon. In 1889 he organised an exhibition of works by Gaugin, Émile Bernard, Anquetin, Louis Roy and himself at the Café Volponi. In 1891 he exhibited at the first exhibition of Impressionist and Symbolist Painters ( Peintres impressionistes et symbolistes) at Le Barc, Boutteville, and in 1900, with Émile Bernard, at the first exhibition of the Esoteric Group. He was represented in 1934 in Gaugin and his Friends, the Pont-Aven School and the Académie Julian ( Gaugin et ses amis, l'École de Pont-Aven et l'Académie Julian).
The only solo show he held took place at the Librairie de l'Art Indépendant d'Edmond Bailly in 1896. A retrospective was organised jointly by the Musée Departmental and the Museum of Pont-Aven in 1996, and this went also to the Museum of St-Germain-en-Laye.
Schuffenecker was well informed about the state of knowledge in his own time. He was a scholarly man and his letters show he had a gift for writing. His company was much sought after. Although he started to paint in an entirely classical style, he joined the Impressionists, or, rather, the Neo-Impressionists. His clear head and bold spirit led him to adopt their essential principles, which he put to work in landscapes and seascapes, almost always of Brittany, and in infrequent portraits. His painting Hymn to the Sun is often referred to. From 1890 to 1896 he painted what can rightly be called Symbolist pictures. Regretting the fate of an artist who seemed destined for high renown, André Salmon wrote, `Was it not the drudgery that paralysed him? He earned his living and wasted his time teaching school kids to draw from plaster models; it is said that he spoke to them in the same way you would to college students you wanted to discourage from entering for the Prix de Rome'.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Cincinnati (AM): Road beneath Trees (1895, oil on canvas)
Fécamp (Mus. des Arts et de l'Enfance): Rocks in Yport (1889, oil on canvas)
Paris (MAMVP): Young Girl
Pont-Aven: Portrait of Madame Félicien Champsaur
Quimper (MBA): Rocky Coast in Brittany (1886, oil on canvas)
St-Germain-en-Laye (Mus. du Prieuré-Maurice-Denis): Inspired Woods (c. 1895-1900)