Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
stamped with woodcut seal (lower left)
watercolor monotype heightened with gouache and watercolor on Japan paper laid down on board
11 ½ x 9 1/8 in. (29.1 x 23.2 cm.)
Executed in 1894
Dr. Stefan von Licht, Vienna; sale, Hugo Helbing, Frankfurt-am-Main, 7 December 1927, lot 32.
Meder collection, Vienna.
Kleemann Galleries, Inc., New York (by 1945).
Hammer Galleries, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Racolin, New York.
The Racolin Foundation (gift from the above); sale, Christie's, New York, 9 May 2000, lot 320.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
E. Mongan, E.W. Kornfeld and H. Joachim, Paul Gauguin, Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints, Bern, 1988, p. 154, no. 3.
B. Thomson, T. Garb and P. Dagen, Gauguin, Maker of Myth, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2010, p. 157, no. 111 (illustrated in color, p. 172).
New York, Kleemann Galleries, Inc., Paul Gauguin, May 1945, no. 16 (titled Femme cueillant des fruits et Oviri).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Paul Gauguin, Monotypes, March-May 1973, p. 70, no. 30 (illustrated and illustrated again in color, pl. 3).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, The Art of Paul Gauguin, May-December 1988, p. 373, no. 212 (illustrated in color).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Lure of the Exotic, Gauguin in New York Collections, June-October 2002, pp. 223-224, no. 92 (illustrated in color, p. 116).
Seattle Art Museum, Gauguin, Polynesia, February-April 2012, p. 376, no. 231 (illustrated in color, p. 240).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Gauguin, Metamorphoses, March-June 2014, pp. 146 and 148 (illustrated in color, p. 149, pl. 100).
Sale room notice
The Art Institute of Chicago and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris have requested this work for their forthcoming exhibition Gauguin, Artist as Alchemist, from June 2017 to January 2018.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Paul Gauguin catalogue critique, currently being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.

The Art Institute of Chicago and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris have requested this work for their forthcoming exhibition Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist in Chicago from 25 June to 10 September 2017 and in Paris from 9 October 2017 to 21 January 2018.

The subject of Oviri first appears in Gauguin's work in Noa Noa, the artist's illustrated journal from his first trip to Tahiti, as the name of a melancholy song which he translated. The word, which means "savage" or "wild," is also the name of the Tahitian deity of death and mourning, Oviri-moe’aiihere, meaning “wild one who sleeps in the wilderness.” Gauguin would manifest this goddess in painting, ceramic, monotype and woodcut. A prototype for her figure appears in E haere oe i hia (Where Are You Going) (fig. 1), painted during the artist’s first stay in Tahiti. In this work, the bare-breasted female figure presses a wolf cub to her side in a gesture which can be interpreted as either protective or predatory. The ambivalence of her action is heightened by the inquisitive looks of the two crouching women in the background.
In late August 1893, Gauguin returned to Paris, amidst personal and professional turmoil. The following year, he created a ceramic version of Oviri (fig. 2), which he considered his masterpiece in the medium. Unlike the painted version of the goddess from two years earlier, in the sculpture the artist eschews classical norms of beauty, choosing to portray his powerful female as somewhat androgynous, with a distorted anatomy and a disproportionally large, mask-like face. In the sculpture, any ambivalence about the figure’s gesture is removed, as Gauguin portrays a dead wolf lying at her foot in a pool of blood, represented by dark red glaze. She grips the wolf cub to her side in a gesture that overturns all conventions of the female as maternal. It is clear that the hunter (the wolf) has now become the hunted. Indeed, Gauguin would later refer to the sculpture as La Tueuse, or the murderess.
Early in May 1894, Gauguin returned to Brittany from Paris, hoping to renew his contact with the area which had been seminal to the development of his early painting and sculpture. During this period he created his first watercolor monotypes on Tahitian themes, including the present work. In this monotype version of Oviri, Gauguin depicts the female figure in three-quarter view, and emphasizes her mysterious nature by exploiting the aqueous textures and thin coloring inherent to the medium. He seemed partial to Japan paper for the manner in which it absorbed the diluted pigments, creating a hazy, otherworldly effect. Julien Leclercq, in his review of an 1894 exhibition of Gauguin’s monotypes, described the artist’s experiments: "By a process of printing with water, he imparts to the watercolor the gravity, sumptuosity and depth which are for him, no matter what subject he chooses, the necessary condition of art" (quoted in R.S. Field, op. cit., exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, p. 16).
Gauguin’s portrayals of his savage goddess symbolize his longing for Tahiti, his profound attraction to the wild and "uncivilized" world in which he found himself in voluntary exile and which he had enthusiastically embraced. Indeed, Gauguin's fascination with the savage state perhaps suggests a desire on his part to reconnect with primitive society and leave behind the "evils" of western civilization as he saw them. In 1903 he wrote to Charles Morice: "You were wrong that day when you said I was wrong to say I was a savage. It's true enough: I am a savage. And civilized people sense the fact. In my work there is nothing that can surprise or disconcert, except the fact that I am a savage in spite of myself. That's also why my work is inimitable" (quoted in op. cit., exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., p. 371). Gauguin identified so strongly with his Oviri that he asked for the sculptured version to be placed on his tomb after his death, a request which was fulfilled in 1973 when a bronze cast of it was placed on his grave in Atuona, Hiva Oa.
fig. 1. Paul Gauguin, E haere oe i hia (Where Are You Going?), 1892. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.
fig. 2. Paul Gauguin, Oviri, 1894. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

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