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

Femmes tahitiennes et anges dans un atelier

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Femmes tahitiennes et anges dans un atelier
signed in monotype 'P. Gauguin' (lower right)
oil transfer heightened with gouache on paper
20 5/8 x 19 in. (52.4 x 48.4 cm.)
Executed in 1901-1902
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
M. de la Palme.
Marcel LeJeune (by 1988).
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 9 April 1989, lot 26.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
G. Wildenstein, Gauguin, Paris, 1964, pp. 264-265.
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Ambroise Vollard, Paul Gauguin, November 1904, no. 17 (titled Groupe de femmes).
(possibly) Paris, Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, Oeuvres de Gauguin, October-November 1906, no. 86 (titled Nativité).
Paris, Gazette des beaux-arts, La vie ardente de Paul Gauguin, December 1936, p. 84, no. 120 (titled Groupe de Tahitiens).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Paul Gauguin, Monotypes, March-May 1973, p. 106, no. 81 (illustrated; titled Nativity).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Gauguin, Metamorphoses, March-June 2014, p. 184 (illustrated in color, p. 186, pl. 150).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, The Art of Paul Gauguin, May-December 1988, p. 467, no. 260 (illustrated in color).
Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, L'oeuvre ultime de Cézanne à Dubuffet, July-October 1989, p. 40, no. 13 (illustrated in color).

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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.

A process invented by Gauguin in 1899, oil transfer drawings celebrate the infinite transformations of the drawn line as well as the mystery and unpredictability of printmaking. A hybrid between a drawing and a print, this technique allows the recto image to possess both the defined lines of the verso pencil drawing, along with the unpredictable textures from rubbing and applying pressure to the inked surface. In a letter dated from March 1902, Gauguin described his creative process to his patron, Gustave Fayet: “First you roll out printer’s ink on a sheet of paper of any sort; then lay a second sheet on top of it and draw whatever pleases you. The harder and thinner your pencil (as well as your paper), the finer will be the resulting line” (quoted in op. cit., 2014, pp. 30-31).
The present work was executed around the time of Gauguin’s arrival in Hiva Oa, an island in the remote Marquesas archipelago. It served as inspiration for the cover illustration for Gauguin’s grand opus, Esprit modern et le Catholicisme (Catholicism and the Modern Mind) (fig. 1). The mysterious and ambiguous nature of oil transfer drawings made it the ideal technique of Gauguin to express his own doubts on religion in both western culture and its application in the Islands. Completed in 1902 during one of his many feuds with the local clergy, Esprit modern et le Catholocisme was primarily drafted between 1897-1898 during his first residence in Tahiti, and reflects his growing distaste of the Church’s authority in this remote corner of the world. Highly influenced by the writings of his English contemporary, Gerald Massy, Gauguin traced the evolution of Christianity from ancient myth to Catholic doctrine, and in the process criticized the role of the Catholic Church in all aspects of society. According to Daniel Guérin, Gauguin attempted “to find a synthesis between Christianity, purged of its dogmatic dross, and modern evolutionary science, as well as democracy. On the other, his fierce indictment of clericalism led him to anarchist, anti-statist conclusions, to vituperations against bourgeois morality” (Paul Gauguin, The Writings of a Savage, New York, 1996, p. 162).
When it came to illustrating the front and back cover of his diatribe, Gauguin returned to several of his previous oil transfer drawings, including the current work. While Femmes tahitiennes dans un atelier carefully balances the sacred and the profane with a composition that is neither overtly religious nor completely lacking in symbolism, Gauguin chooses to remove ambiguity from the cover illustration by dividing the original picture into two planes and introducing traditional Christian iconography. A haloed Madonna and Child are featured prominently on the back cover, while the figures from the present work were further manipulated in the later version for the cover in order to appear shrouded in shadow.

fig. 1. Paul Gauguin, Esprit modern et le Catholicisme. St. Louis Art Museum.

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