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Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Property from the Collection of Lew and Edie Wasserman
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Scène bretonne

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Scène bretonne
signed 'P Gauguin' (lower right)
watercolor, pen and India ink on paper
Image size: 7½ x 16½ in. (19.1 x 41.9 cm.) (irregular)
Sheet size: 10½ x 18½ in. (26.7 x 47 cm.)
Executed in Brittany, 1889
Olivier Sainsère, Paris.
Anon. sale, Musée Galliéra, Paris, 29 June 1962, lot 7.
Lew and Edie Wasserman, Los Angeles (acquired circa 1965).
G. Wildenstein, Gauguin, Paris, 1964, vol. I, p. 131, no. 342 (illustrated).
Sale Room Notice
The Wildenstein Institute will include this work in their forthcoming Gauguin catalogue critique.

Lot Essay

The Wildenstein Institute will include this work in their forthcoming Gauguin catalogue critique.

Gauguin painted the present fan during the third of four trips that he took to rural Brittany, between June 1889 and February 1890. On his previous visits, he had stayed at the picturesque artist's colony of Pont-Aven, but upon his return there in 1889, he found that it had become too crowded and commercial for his taste. He decided to spend the month of August instead at Le Pouldu, a tiny fishing hamlet on the far west coast of Brittany, about thirty miles from Pont-Aven. John Rewald has noted, "Here Gauguin came as close to a primitive way of life as he could ever expect to come in France" (Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1978, p. 267). The windswept desolation of the seaside landscape at Le Pouldu and the austere lives of its inhabitants had a powerful effect on Gauguin, and he returned there in early October with the painter Meyer de Haan, remaining through the harsh winter. At Le Pouldu, Gauguin painted some of his most powerful works to date, bringing to fruition the Synthetist style that he had begun to develop the previous year, with its deliberately simplified and abstracted forms. In a letter to Emile Bernard from August 1889, Gauguin announced this imminent breakthrough in his art: "I hope that this winter you will find in me a new Gauguin... What I am trying to get at is a corner of myself which I do not yet understand" (quoted in M. Malingue, ed., Paul Gauguin: Letters to His Wife and Friends, Boston, 2003, no. 84).

One of the themes that dominates Gauguin's work from Le Pouldu is the children of the village, depicted tending cattle or walking or resting on the cliffs. Their traditional costume features a somber black headdress in place of the white bonnet and collar worn at Pont-Aven, and their downcast heads and grave demeanor evoke the harsh struggle of peasant life. Late in 1889, Gauguin wrote to Van Gogh, "This year I'm mostly doing simple farm children strolling beside the sea with their cows... I try to infuse these desolate figures with the wildness that I see in them, and which is also in me. Here in Brittany the country people have something medieval about them; they don't look for a moment as though they believe that Paris really exists, or that it is really 1889" (quoted in Gauguin, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 163). The focal point of the present fan are three young girls in the right foreground, one with her back turned and two facing the viewer. The latter appear to have been excerpted from a painting that Gauguin made early in his stay at Le Pouldu, which shows a pair of Breton girls standing side-by-side (Wildenstein, no. 340; National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; see also nos. 341, 346, 347). The fan is bisected horizontally by a yellowish band with rounded blue inclusions, which serves as a shorthand indication of a rocky ledge. Beyond this, at a lower ground level, are a woman bending forward and a man in a broad-brimmed shepherd's hat, both of whom stand in a tilled field that stretches all the way to the sea. The figures are silhouetted against a massive haystack, a motif that Gauguin also explored in at least three oils from Le Pouldu (Wildenstein, nos. 351-352, 397).

Gauguin's fans frequently conflate compositional elements from various paintings and seem to have served in part as memories of his travels, which he often gave as gifts. A fan from his first Breton sojourn, which he presented to his traveling companion Charles Laval, is in fact inscribed "souvenir" (Wildenstein, no. 202; Art Institute of Chicago); other fans were gifts to Gauguin's friends Pietro Krohn, Emile Schuffenecker, Paco Durrio, and Félix Bracquemond (Wildenstein, nos. 147, 216, 223, 228). Although the earliest provenance of the present example is unknown, it too may have been a gift to one of the artist's compatriots, either in Brittany or back in Paris, commemorating his seminal journey to Le Pouldu. Its first recorded owner is Olivier Sainsère, the Conseiller d'Etat in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century and an important collector of modern paintings.

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