Details
PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903)
Fleurs et livres
signed, dated and dedicated 'p Gauguin 82 a mon ami Bertaux' (upper left)
oil on panel
4 7/8 x 7 1/4 in. (12.4 x 18.4 cm.)
Painted in 1882
Provenance
Émile-Arnaud Bertaux, Paris (probably a gift from the artist, 1882).
Chester H. Johnson Galleries, Chicago; sale, American Art Association, New York, 14 November 1934, lot 9.
Coroni Mundi, New York.
Walter P. Chrysler Jr., New York (by 1936); sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 1 July 1959, lot 22.
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), London (acquired at the above sale).
Galerie Bernini, Vaduz.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, July 1964).
Donald and Jean Stralem, New York (acquired from the above, November 1964); Estate sale, Sotheby's, New York, 8 May 1995, lot 5.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
Literature
G. Wildenstein, Gauguin, Paris, 1964, vol. I, p. 32, no. 77 (illustrated; titled Bouquet de fleurs).
V. Merlhès, Correspondance de Paul Gauguin, Paris, 1984, p. 370, note 82; p. 389, note 123 and p. 394, note 134.
D. Wildenstein, Gauguin, A Savage in the Making: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Paris, 2002, vol. I, pp. 107-108, no. 96 (illustrated in color, p. 107).
Exhibited
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Dru, Exposition rétrospective de P. Gauguin: Peintures, bois, céramiques, gravures et dessins, April-May 1923, no. 2 (titled Nature morte, fleurs).
Wallingford, Andrew Mellon Library, Works from the Collection of Walter P. Chrysler Jr., January-February 1936.
Detroit Institute of Arts, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. Collection, 1937, p. 14, no. 65 (titled Flowers).
Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Philadelphia Museum of Art, Collection of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., January-May 1941, p. 46, no. 54 (titled Flowers).
London, The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), XIXth and XXth Century French Paintings, October-November 1959, pp. 5-6, no. 6 (illustrated; titled Bouquet de fleurs).
?New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990 (on loan).

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Lot Essay

The delicate rendering that Gauguin accorded these chrysanthemums in several colors, laid atop two books whose leaves from the side are no less finely detailed in their stacked effect, imparts a meditative serenity to this dialogue of the arts—both literary and painterly—with the beauty of nature. Fleurs et livres perhaps betokens a respite from the crisis that had befallen the artist and nearly every other citizen of France at that time. In January 1882, the new Union Générale bank, haphazardly founded on speculation and poorly capitalized, suddenly collapsed. Investors large and small were ruined; the stocks and commodities markets crashed.
Since 1872, as a man in his twenties, to support his wife Mette and eventually five children, Gauguin depended on his day job as a stockbroker, most recently dealing in insurance company shares, on the Paris Bourse de commerce. While successful in this line of work, and comfortably situated, he nonetheless dreamed of painting as his true avocation—not as an artist, however, who would exhibit in the annual official Salon, as he did in 1878, but as an Impressionist, dedicated to the idea of a vital, new art—radical, innovative, and counter to every convention the Salon represented. He spent several weeks during the summer of 1879 painting alongside Pissarro in Pontoise, and again in 1881, when he met Cezanne. The example of the two older, experienced painters guided Gauguin toward more consistent and disciplined means of composition and handling. He showed his early work with the Impressionists during 1880-1882 in their fifth, sixth, and seventh group exhibitions, as well as the eighth and final show in 1886.
Within a few months of the bank collapse, Gauguin’s stock commissions dwindled and his own portfolio had suffered badly. As difficult as the road would likely prove, and Mette’s apprehension notwithstanding, Gauguin realized that the moment of decision was finally at hand—come what may, he would paint full-time and commit himself completely to a life in art.
Fleurs et livres may have been completed following a third stay with Camille Pissarro in 1882. Gauguin dedicated and made a gift of this painting to his friend Émile Armand Bertaux, who held the well-paying position of cashier in the prestigious Lafuite brokerage. Bertaux had purchased two of Gauguin’s recent Pontoise landscapes—the artist likely presented Fleurs et livres to him in gratitude for his interest and support. The two men remained close friends for the next couple of years. In 1884 Bertaux promised to finance Gauguin’s stay, together with his family, in Mette’s native Copenhagen, where the artist hoped to establish a market for his paintings.
This venture proved to be a desultory, discouraging experience for Gauguin, who quickly ran short of funds. “I’d never have taken ship if he hadn’t promised to support me for a year,” he wrote to Émile Schuffenecker in May 1885. “Then he broke his promise and fobbed me off with excuses about the [bank] crisis” (quoted in cat. rais., op. cit., 2002, p. 108). This falling out ended their friendship.
Leaving Mette with their children in Copenhagen, Gauguin returned to Paris alone in June 1885 and embarked on the paintings he would include the following year in the final Impressionist group exhibition. Soon after the show closed, he travelled to Brittany, bearing his earliest ideas for a synthétiste art that pushed beyond the naturalistic parameters of Impressionism.

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