Armand Seguin (1869-1903)
Armand Seguin (1869-1903)

Les fleurs du mal

Armand Seguin (1869-1903)
Les fleurs du mal

oil on canvas
21 x 14 in. (53.4 x 35.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1894
Henriette Boutaric, Paris.
Galerie René Drouet, Paris.
M. and Mme Samuel Josefowitz, Lausanne (acquired from the above, February 1962); sale, Christie's, Paris, 23 May 2007, lot 45.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
W. Jaworska, Paul Gauguin et l'Ecole de Pont-Aven, Neuchâtel, 1971, p. 146 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery and Kunsthaus Zürich, Gauguin and the Pont-Aven Group, January-April 1966, p. 38, no. 164.
Turin, Museo Civica d'Arte Moderna and Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Il sacro e il profano nell'arte dei Simbolisti, June-November 1969, p. 113, no. 120 (illustrated).
Musée de Pont-Aven, 1886-1986: Cent ans, Gauguin à Pont-Aven, June-September 1986, p. 69, no. 65 (illustrated; dated circa 1893).
Musée de Pont-Aven, Armand Seguin, June-October 1989, p. 22, no. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 23).
Indianapolis Museum of Art; Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Memphis, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens; San Diego Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven, September 1994-September 1996, p. 134, no. 103 (illustrated in color, p. 135).
Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe Stadtmuseum and Berlin, Bröhan Museum, Art nouveau: Symbolismus und Jugenstil in Frankreich, October 1999-February 2000, p. 41, no. 20 (illustrated in color; dated circa 1894).
Paris, Musée du Luxembourg and Quimper, Musée des Beaux-Arts, L'aventure de Pont-Aven et Gauguin, April-September 2003, p. 258, no. 91 (illustrated in color, p. 259).
Musée de Pont-Aven, Kenavo Monsieur Gauguin, June-September 2003, p. 41 (illustrated in color).
Rome, Complesso del Vittoriano, Paul Gauguin: Artist of Myth and Dream, October 2007-February 2008, p. 420, no. 142 (illustrated in color, p. 421; illustrated again in color, p. 140, fig. 18).

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Lot Essay

Primarily known as a print-maker and illustrator, Seguin executed a very small painted oeuvre, amounting to fewer than a score of pictures and not quite as many watercolors and drawings. Those who knew Seguin, most notably Paul Gauguin, commended his work for the potential it appeared to hold for the future, only partly realized in the end, which came all too soon. Seguin fell victim to tuberculosis at the age of 34.
Breton born and bred, Seguin arrived in Paris to study at the École des Arts Décoratifs, but attended classes only briefly. He was otherwise self-taught, picking up what useful lessons he might find in looking at the art of his contemporaries and working alongside them. The Groupe Impressionniste et Synthétiste exhibition at the Café Volpini in Paris in 1889 was a revelation for the aspiring 20-year-old artist. “I was captivated by the paintings of Gauguin, Bernard, Filiger and Laval, so clear-cut, affirmative and beautiful,” Seguin wrote in his 1903 memoir. “I still feel joy at the memory” (quoted in R.S. Field, C.L. Strauss and S.J. Wagstaff, Jr., The Prints of Armand Seguin, exh. cat., Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 1980, p. 8).
Seguin became a convert to the synthétiste style, but the timing of his visits to Pont-Aven, Gauguin’s accustomed base in Brittany, failed to coincide with the master’s stays there. During this period when back in Paris, Seguin moved among—without actually joining—a group of young painters who were taking classes at the progressive Académie Julian and had also become fervent admirers of Gauguin, with whom they had occasional contact. Seguin still did not cross paths with his exemplar. The two men did not meet until 1894, following Gauguin’s return from his first stay in Tahiti, around the time when the present work was painted.
Les fleurs du mal is among the artist’s most successful paintings. Composed of patches of color, shape and tone that are pieced together to form an overall flat quilt of landscape, dream and suggestion, the painting is an image of escape from the quotidian world into a phantasmagoria outside of space and time. The title, ascribed to the work subsequent to its execution, references the poetry and prose of Charles Baudelaire, whose 1857 book-length poem of the same title was an important inspiration for this generation of Symbolist painters and poets. In it, Baudelaire suggests that the world must be seen-through, not just seen, and that the material realm is no more than a forest of symbols. As in Baudelaire’s verse, the present painting is rife with symbols: the woman damned, her red hair mingling amongst smoke, is slowly engulfed in flames.

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