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

Arearea no varua ino (Words of the Devil)

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Arearea no varua ino (Words of the Devil)
monotype printed with watercolour and gouache (?), with tracing lines in blue, 1894, on firm machine-made tan simili-Japan paper, printed to or close to the edges of the sheet, the paper slightly toned, in very good condition, framed

S. 275 x 237 mm.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Paris (L. 657); with his red atelier stamp on the backboard of the frame.
Private collection, Stockholm; acquired in Paris around 1918-25; then by descent to the present owner.
Richard S. Field, Paul Gauguin: Monotypes, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1973 (not recorded; see nos. 8, 9 & 10 for related works).
Elizabeth Mongan, Eberhard Kornfeld, Harold Joachim, Paul Gauguin – Catalogue raisonné of his Prints, Bern, 1988 (see no. 23 for Manao Tupapau).
Richard Brettell et al., The Art of Paul Gauguin, National Gallery of Art, Washington/ Art Institute of Chicago, 1988 (not included; see nos. 192, 193 & 208 for related works).
Colta Ives et al., The Private Collection of Edgar Degas – A Summary Catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997 (see pp. 56 & 57, nos. 492, 496, 497 & 503).
Peter Kort Zegers, ‘In the Kitchen with Paul Gauguin: Devising Recipes for a Symbolist Graphic Aesthetic’, in: Harriet K. Stratis & Britt Salvesen (eds.), The Broad Spectrum: Studies in Materials, Techniques, and Conservation of Color on Paper, London, 2002, pp. 138-44).
Starr Figura et al., Gauguin – Metamorphoses, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, pp. 226-28.

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Lot Essay

The present, previously unrecorded monotype of Arearea no varua ino has been in the same family for three generations and was acquired by the current owner’s grandfather in Paris around 1918-25. It was - and still is - in Edgar Degas’ original frame with the Atelier Ed. Degas stamp, applied by his executors upon his death in 1917, on the reverse. It is not certain when Degas, who was one of the earliest collectors of Gauguin’s works, acquired it himself. He bought several monotypes in Gauguin’s sale at Hôtel Drouot on 18 February 1895, and this may be one of two works included in lot 56, described by Degas in his inventory as ‘2 femmes à Taiti, l’une assise, l’autre debout, impression à l’eau’ (Ives p. 57, no. 503). The print must have then been sold separately after Degas’ death, as it does not seem to have been included in his posthumous sale of prints in 1918.

Another monotype from the same family collection, also from Degas’ estate, was sold in these rooms in 1989 (Ia orana Maria, 29-30 June 1989, lot 291, for £176,000) (Ives, p. 56, no. 492).

When we first saw Arearea no varua ino recently, it was laid down on to a sheet of Bristol teinte card. Yet, upon closer inspection, another print was just discernible on its reverse. Careful removal of the backing sheet revealed part of the colour lithograph Modistes by René-Georges Hermann-Paul (1864-1940) on the verso (see fig. 1). Published in March 1894, this print was included in the sixth instalment of L’Estampe Originale (see lot 19 of this sale), to which Gauguin himself had contributed his lithograph Manao tupapau (Mongan 23). On several occasions Gauguin had re-used the reverse of his own prints for other works. We know however only of one case where he had re-purposed the reverse of work by another artist: the monotype Aha oe feii? (Field 10, Brettell 208; Art Institute of Chicago), which is in fact printed onto the back of another part of Hermann-Paul’s lithograph. The two monotypes must have been created on the same day or within a few days of each other.

The figure of the sitting woman and of the Tahitian idol in the background of the present monotype are closely related to a painting of the same title (Wildenstein 514; Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen – see fig. 2), dated 1894 and dedicated ‘A Md Gloanec’, his landlady in Pont-Aven during the summer and early autumn of that year. It is generally agreed that Gauguin’s paintings always precede monotypes of related subjects. We can therefore assume that the present work was made after his return from Brittany to Paris on 14 November 1894, and before the sale of his works in February and his final departure for the South Seas in early July 1895.

Another monotype, with the sitting woman and the idol in reverse and a different background, is in the Rosenwald Collection (Field 8; Brettell 192; National Gallery of Art, Washington - see fig. 3); a third monotype of the same figure, but without the idol, is in the Dr. Martin L. and Francey Gecht Collection in Chicago (Field 9; Brettell 193); and a fourth, with a different idol, has been recorded by John Rewald in his catalogue of Gauguin's drawings (Rewald 87; whereabouts unknown). Tracings of the present work and the Rosenwald impression have revealed that they are exact mirror images of each other, as far as the outlines, the dimensions and the spatial relationships of the figure, the upper part of the idol and even the fruit on the ground are concerned. The aforementioned other two versions seem to match nearly as well.

The existence of four monotypes of the same figure (in the same and in the opposite direction), raises interesting questions about the exact relation of these monotypes, and about Gauguin’s working methods. It seems clear that these different versions cannot be counterproofs or direct transfers of each other; the general treatment and the backgrounds are just too different. What all the works however have in common are the outlines defining the figure.

Much has been speculated about Gauguin’s monotype techniques. As Peter Kort Zegers has demonstrated through experiment, and as Julien Leclerc – long overlooked - had written as early as 1898, ‘Gauguin painted with watercolour on a sheet of glass and pulled impressions on dampened paper’ (Zegers, p. 138-44 & notes 5 & 20). It appears however that the different versions of the present subject are not subsequent impressions from the same ‘watercolour on glass’. Rather it seems that the outlines of the central motifs were traced, presumably from a preparatory drawing, through a sheet of glass. To those usually blue tracing lines Gauguin then added the colouration, the background composition and any details not present in the initial sketch to the glass surface. He then placed a sheet of paper onto the glass, which he rubbed or pressed from behind, until the image had been transferred onto the paper. What was left on the glass was presumably wiped off, before he once more traced the outlines and added colours, in order to create another, related and yet different, image.

Not only did Gauguin experiment with different compositions, he also used various papers and materials. The fact that for the light watercolours of the Rosenwald and Gecht impressions he used fine, absorbent (and expensive!) Japan paper, demonstrates that he did not re-purpose the reverse of a lithograph because he could not afford paper. (In fact, he had just received a small inheritance from an uncle and was, for once, not impoverished.) Instead, he must have chosen this stiff, non-absorbent paper for the present work because it lent itself perfectly to the richly inked monotype he was about to print.

As the analysis of other works has shown, Gauguin at times mixed his inks and paints with a variety of other substances, such as wax, resin, oil and gum. This seems to be also evident in this print. While the Rosenwald impression is executed in transparent watercolours, the present monotype is printed in a profusion of pigments, ranging from light watercolours and washes to thick, viscous inks and oily paints, depicting the ground, the idol, and the forest behind. In some passages, such as the dark green background between the tree trunks, the paint must have been so thick and the suction between the glass and the firm paper so strong, that strange, entirely accidental textures emerged. In other areas, such as the idol, a thin veil of blue wash lies about much dryer pigments. The whole image is composed of a dense layering of different textures, materials and colours, to which the transfer process lends a blurred, dream-like quality.

This sense of uncertainty, achieved through technical means, is particularly suited to the subject of the image: a woman under the spell of an ancient god. It is this ghostly atmosphere, seemingly radiating from the idol, which sets this print apart from the painting and the other monotype versions of this subject. The present impression of Arearea no varua ino is arguably Gauguin’s technically most complex monotype, a remarkable rediscovery, which shows the artist at the height of his creative powers, ceaselessly experimenting and deliberately allowing accidental effects, yet perfectly matching his materials and methods to his subject.

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