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Jean Davray, Paris.
Antoine Nikles, Genève.
Acquis auprès de celui-ci par Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé, janvier 1986.
D. Wildenstein, Gauguin: Premier itinéraire d'un sauvage, catalogue de l'oeuvre peint (1873-1888), Paris, 2001, vol. II, p. 342 (illustré en oeuvre comparative).
Post Lot Text
'STUDY OF MARTINIQUAISE WOMEN'; ILLEGIBLY NUMBERED UPPER LEFT; PASTEL AND CHARCOAL ON PAPER.
After his first visit to Pont-Aven, Paul Gauguin's journey to the Antilles represented a major turning point in his life and work. From June until November 1887, Gauguin went to "live in the wild"1 with his friend Charles Laval, setting out to discover another culture while escaping a European society in the throes of industrialisation. Desperately in search of nature in its purest form -- a sort of paradise lost, he produced several major compositions depicting indigenous characters against a lush, tropical backdrop of vegetation, including Au bord de la rivière and La cueillette des fruits (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam). Meanwhile, the artist also built up a collection of illustrated notes depicting the indigenous people and local wildlife, a few motifs from which appear in the Martinique paintings.
Such is the case with the silhouette of the Martinique woman in this pastel, a silhouette that also appears, in an inverted position with a slightly different stance, in the middle of the painting Au bord de la rivière (Wildenstein, no. 252). The carefully captured pose of the model permits us to consider this work not as a simple sketch, but rather as one of the few known model-centric studies carried out by an ethnographer in his exploration of local particularities and customs.
"At present, I am driven to produce sketch after sketch so that I can delve into their character before asking them to pose", he explained to his friend Claude-Emile Schuffenecker at the beginning of July2. It reveals the new processes that the inventive Gauguin had become fond of using in his preparatory work at this time and which were applied to his montage and inversion techniques. In fact, he often reused and reworked these silhouettes or isolated elements for different compositions, freely combining bodies and faces and/or inverting them (he probably examined his own drawings on transparent film). These new tools gave the artist a newfound freedom in using the figures that he transcribed into his notebooks and sketches.
Gauguin's stay in Martinique gave him new impetus in his creative work as well as in his technique and, through the graphic work he produced, allowed him to create a personal vocabulary of motifs from which he could draw from at will. Confiding in Charles Morice during this pivotal period of his artistic evolution, Gauguin said: "The experience I had in Martinique... changed my life. Only there did I feel like myself, and anyone wishing to understand who I am must look for me in the work that I brought back from there, more than what I produced in Brittany"3.
1 Letter from Gauguin to his wife, quoted in D. Wildenstein, Gauguin, Premier itinéraire d'un sauvage, catalogue de l'oeuvre peint (1873-1888), Paris, 2001, vol. II, p. 317.
2 Letter from Paul Gauguin to Paul-Emile Schuffenecker, quoted in D. Wildenstein, ibid., p. 319.
3 C. Morice, Paul Gauguin, Paris, 1919, p. 81.