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

Bretonne et chef modelé de jeune Breton

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Bretonne et chef modelé de jeune Breton
signed and numbered 'P. Gauguin 52' (on the back)
partially painted unglazed reddish-brown stoneware vase
Height: 10¼ in. (26 cm.)
Executed in 1886-1887; unique
Gustave Fayet, Béziers.
Léon and Gérard Fayet, Arles (by descent from the above, by 1964).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 3 April 1974, lot 72.
Mrs. W. Wood, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the estate of the above by the present owner, 30 April 1977.
M. Malingue, Gauguin, lettres de Gauguin à sa femme et à ses amis, Paris, 1946, p. 80 (illustrated).
C. Gray, Sculpture and Ceramics of Paul Gauguin, Baltimore, 1963, p. 131, no. 18 (illustrated).
M. Bodelsen, Gauguin's Ceramics, London, 1964, pp. 18, 38-39, 46-50 and 229, no. 15 (illustrated in color, p. 43, fig. 35; detail illustrated, p. 51, fig. 40d).
The Art of Paul Gauguin, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988, pp. 68 and 70.
C. Andréani, Les Céramiques de Gauguin, Paris, 2003, p. 107, no. 56 (illustrated in color, p. 109).

Lot Essay

In June 1886, shortly before he left Paris for his first trip to Brittany, Paul Gauguin was introduced by the painter and engraver Félix Bracquemond to Ernest Chaplet, one of the leading ceramicists in France. Seeking to supplement his meager income, Gauguin arranged to make pottery in Chaplet's studio on the rue Blomet and to split the proceeds fifty-fifty. Following his return from Pont-Aven in mid-October, Gauguin immersed himself in this new discipline; by January 1887, he had produced no fewer than fifty-five ceramic pots, according to a letter that he wrote to Bracquemond. The present vase is one of only a handful of Gauguin's ceramics to retain his numbering; it is numbered 52, suggesting that it was made toward the end of this immensely productive period. Although Gauguin began by decorating pots that Chaplet had thrown on the wheel, he soon progressed to modeling by hand out of coils of clay, creating objects remarkable for their merging of the arts of the potter, sculptor, and painter. He left the coarse stoneware body of his pots unglazed, firing it to a reddish-brown, and added incised or bas-relief decoration painted with colored slip. Douglas Druick and Peter Zegers have written, "Gauguin's selectively glazed and roughly executed ceramics display highly idiosyncratic shapes and applied motifs that invoke Western folk-art traditions like the pre-industrial pottery of regional France (Brittany included)... The hand-modeled pots, like Gauguin's earlier carvings, were self-consciously transgressive... [and] deliberately and expressively crude" (Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 2001, pp. 68-69).

The majority of the pots that Gauguin executed during this period are decorated with Breton motifs, whose rustic connotations complement the rough-hewn formal field. In the present vase, the head of a boy in a wide-brimmed shepherd's hat peeks over the rim; two sheep are incised on the body of the vessel beneath. The opposite side is decorated with the figure of a Breton woman in distinctive regional costume, with two geese silhouetted against her skirt. This female figure, seen in left profile with her head lowered, originated in the painting Bretonnes bavardant of 1886 (Wildenstein, no. 237; fig. 1), which has been called "the breakthrough picture of this period" (ibid., p. 64). Most likely worked up in the studio following Gauguin's return to Paris, this canvas marks an important step in Gauguin's accumulation of a repertory of forms that would re-appear in various media throughout the 1880s. Daniel Wildenstein has explained, "As they are repeated from one work to the next, they acquire an autonomous life, becoming letters in a personal alphabet, the words of a vocabulary laden with secret meanings" (Gauguin, A Savage in the Making: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1873-1888, New York, 2002, p. 292). The figure on the present vase also appears on a glazed jardinière (Gray, no. 41; Bodelsen, no. 19; Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva) and on a fan (Private Collection), both executed in late 1886 or early 1887. In 1888, Gauguin made a watercolor copy of this figure, which he brought with him on his second trip to Pont-Aven and used as the basis for another important canvas, Bretonne au pichet (Wildenstein, no. 267; Private collection).

The first owner of the present vase was Gustave Fayet, a prosperous wine grower from Béziers and the most important collector of Gauguin's work during the opening years of the twentieth century. Fayet owned up to a hundred paintings, ceramics, and wood carvings by Gauguin and was instrumental in introducing the whole of Gauguin's oeuvre to the next generation of the avant-garde, loaning numerous works to the artist's posthumous retrospective at the 1906 Salon d'Automne and allowing Matisse to inspect his extensive collection in the same year. Hilary Spurling has written, "Fayet belonged... to a remarkable generation of independent patrons and painters in the south of France, whose progressive outlook put them streets ahead of the Parisian art establishment" (The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse, The Early Years, 1869-1908, New York, 1999, p. 315).

(fig. 1) Paul Gauguin, Bretonnes bavardant, 1886. Neue Pinakothek, Munich.
Barcode: 28975151

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