Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
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Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)


Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
signed with the initials 'PG' (centre right)
oil on canvas
22¼ x 16 1/8 in. (56.6 x 40.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1886
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Comte de Galéa, Paris.
Fine Arts Associates (Otto M. Gerson), New York.
Morton D. May, Jr., Saint Louis, Missouri.
Justin K. Thannhauser, New York.
Mr and Mrs Lloyd Bruce Wescott, Clinton, New Jersey, circa 1959.
A gift from the above to the present owner in 1960.
A. Vollard [unpublished inventory], 1 January 1922, no. 4287 (titled 'Le Liseur').
A. Vollard [Procès-verbal de la succession Vollard], September - November 1939, no. 4287.
G. Wildenstein, Gauguin, vol. I, Paris, 1964, no. 187 (illustrated p. 70).
G.M. Sugana, L'opera completa di Gauguin, Milan, 1972, no. 31, (illustrated p. 88, titled 'Clovis Gauguin con un libro').
G.M. Sugana, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Gauguin, Paris, 1981, no. 31, (illustrated p. 88).
Y. le Pichon & R. Laffont, Sur les traces de Gauguin, Paris, 1986, pp. 38 and 258 (illustrated p. 39, titled 'Portrait de son fils Clovis').
D. Wildenstein, Gauguin, premier itinéraire d'un sauvage, catalogue de l'oeuvre peint (1873-1888), vol. I, Paris, 2001, no. 208, pp. 248-252 (illustrated p. 249).
N.M. Mathews, Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, New Haven and London, 2001 (illustrated p. 67, fig. 22).
Chicago, Art Institute, Gauguin: Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Sculpture, February - March 1959, no. 6 (illustrated p. 30); this exhibition later travelled to New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April - May 1959.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Cent oeuvres de Gauguin, January - February 1960, no. 21.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Paul Gauguin, April - May 1960, no. 32.
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903, June - July 1960, no. 7 (illustrated pl. 4).
Cincinnati, Art Museum, The Early Work of Paul Gauguin: Genesis of an Artist, March - April 1971, no. 10 (illustrated p. 18).
Baltimore, Museum of Art, Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections, October 1999 - January 2000, no. 32 (illustrated p. 103); this exhibition later travelled to Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, March - May 2000 and Cleveland, Museum of Art, May - July 2000.
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin and the Origins of Symbolism, September 2004 - January 2005, no. 10 (illustrated p. 26 (detail) and p. 116).
Copenhagen, Ordrupgaard, Gauguin and Impressionism, August - November 2005, no. 55 (illustrated p. 275); this exhibition later travelled to Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, December 2005 - March 2006.
Rome, Complesso del Vittoriano, Paul Gauguin: artista di mito e sogno, October 2007 - February 2008, no. 19 (illustrated p. 189).
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Lot Essay

Paul Gauguin's intimate portrait of his favourite son, Clovis, is an exceptionally rare subject dating from a critical turning point in the painter's career. Most likely painted in the winter of 1885-86, Clovis is one of only fifteen recorded pictures in which Gauguin portrayed his children and the only one he would produce after his return to Paris from Denmark in June 1885. Prior to this move, Gauguin had experienced a complete reversal in his fortunes, having lost his job in banking following the stock market crash of 1882. Determined to become a major painter and in desperate need of money to support his expanding family, Gauguin initially moved to Rouen in the hope of finding a more economically stable situation; but distressed by their decline, his wife Mette insisted on returning to her parents' home in Copenhagen in October 1884. Gauguin followed one month later, but faced with the disapproval of a family who did not understand his desire to abandon a business career for the arts, and a public audience that were critical of his controversial techniques, he inevitably found life in Denmark stifling. Feeling isolated, misunderstood and rejected, Gauguin departed for Paris with the intention of setting himself up so the rest of the family might join him, taking Clovis as a gesture that he was not leaving them all behind.

Gauguin arrived back in Paris with a six-year-old child to take care of and with no prospects whatsoever, knowing he had to begin creating distinctive works that would mark him out from all the artists jostling for attention in the French capital. Despite his hardships, Gauguin began to display considerable beauty and increasing individuality in his work, producing paintings characterized by a bold severity that presages the purely aesthetic considerations of line, colour and plane that would occur in Pont-Aven in 1888. He was still painting in the Impressionist technique of divided tones but there was a distinct progress in his mastery of form and composition at this time, which is evident in the simplicity and strength of Clovis and the accumulated layers of short, textural brushstrokes that reveal the influence of his role model, Cézanne. The painting's unusual density of colour and mass lend this remarkable portrait a solemnity that pays tribute to the 'sensitive and intelligent' boy who stoically and maturely shared this difficult moment with his father.

Letters home during this period offer a testimony to this arduous existence in Paris, with Gauguin living in an unfurnished apartment with little food or clothing:

'Clovis is a hero: when we sit down together at the table in the evening with a crust of bread and a relish, he forgets how greedy he used to be: he says nothing, asks for nothing, not even to play and goes to bed quietly' (Paul Gauguin to Mette Gad, 27 February 1886, cited in S. Johnston, Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections, New York, 1999, p.102).

The months he spent with Clovis were probably the most intimate and involved of Gauguin's entire life as a father and the present work is consequently the most direct portrait of any of his children, packed with a deeply personal significance. Other images of Clovis include the magical Clovis endormi (1883, W.81), featuring the young boy with flowing golden locks slumbering next to a large antique Norwegian tankard; a gouache fan-shaped composition of Clovis in Profile with a Mandolin (1885, W.180); a pastel double portrait where he appears with his younger brother Pola (1885, W.135) and the Impressionist painting of Clovis and his sister Aline in profile (1883, W.82). In this portrait, Clovis' long hair is gone, his plain wool jumper and cropped hair suggesting something of the spartan circumstances in which he was living. Yet there is no sense of privation or psychological endurance in the painting, which Gauguin has approached with purely visual concerns, lending the image a strong volumetric quality and a monumental presence.

There is a complex interplay of form and hue in the composition with the orange tones of the woven cloth in the background repeated throughout and the curvature of the boy's head counterbalanced by what appears to be a floral bouquet in the background. This indistinct arrangement has recently been identified by Anne-Birgitte Fosmark as a carved oak basket of fruit designed to surmount a newel post that was hand painted by Gauguin and which is now in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. The rustic carving was obviously a possession of great importance to the painter and it would become of a source of inspiration for Gauguin's own pseudo-primitive style of wood-carving. Inaccuracies in its shape and colours indicate it was painted from memory, for although Gauguin took the ornament with him to Denmark in 1884, he had left it behind on his departure in 1885.

The winter in which Clovis was painted was a particularly cold and uncomfortable one, in which Gauguin relied on handouts from his old friend and fellow painter Claude-Emile Schuffenecker and the sale of part of his collection to Durand-Ruel. Clovis fell ill and eventually Gauguin's sister Maria stepped in, providing the necessary funds to send him to a boarding school. By March of 1887, Gauguin had tired of his 'enervating' life in Paris and the intrigues of its art community and announced his intention to travel to Panama and Martinique to satisfy his yearning for the exotic. Clovis was retrieved by his mother to live once again with his four siblings in Copenhagen and would not see his father for another six years.

The importance of this painting is reflected in its extensive exhibition and publication history and its prestigious provenance. After passing through the hands of the renowned French art dealer Ambroise Vollard and his heirs in the de Galéa family, the portrait then belonged to the American philanthropist and art collector Morton D. May, whose bequest of German Expressionist art is a major highlight of the Saint Louis Art Museum, before being gifted to an American institution by Mr and Mrs Lloyd Bruce Wescott in 1960.

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