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

Les délices de la vie

Armand Seguin (1869-1903)
Les délices de la vie
signed ‘a. Seguin-’ (lower center on the far left panel)
each: oil on canvas laid down on board
Four panel screen (including frame) each: 62 7/8 x 25 ¼ in. (159.8 x 64.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1892-1893
Henri Baderou, Paris.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1959).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, April 1960.
Art Quarterly, Autumn 1959 (illustrated).
P. Selz, “Art Nouveau: An International Movement” in Art in America, vol. XLVIII, no. 2, Summer 1960, p. 83 (left two panels illustrated in color).
J.M. Jacobus, Jr., “Art Nouveau in New York” in Burlington Magazine, vol. CII, no. 690, September 1960, p. 395 (illustrated, fig. 4).
H. Kramer, “The Erotic Style: Reflections on the Exhibition of ‘Art Nouveau’” in Arts Magazine, vol. XXXIV, no. 10, September 1960, p. 22 (illustrated).
W. Jaworska, Paul Gauguin et l’école de Pont-Aven, Neuchâtel, 1971, p. 146 (left two panels illustrated, p. 144).
R.S. Field, C.L. Strauss and S.J. Wagstaff, Jr., The Prints of Armand Séguin: 1869-1903, exh. cat., Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 1980, pp. 7, 12, 69 and 73, no. 6.
M. Potter, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 203, 206 and 345, no. 66 (illustrated in color, pp. 204-205; dated circa 1894 and with incorrect provenance).
C. Boyle-Turner, The Prints of the Pont-Aven GroupGauguin and his Circle in Brittany, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 88 (illustrated, fig. 16).
C. Puget, Armand Seguin, exh. cat., Musée de Pont-Aven, 1989, pp. 10-11 (illustrated in color; titled Les plaisirs de la vie).
G. Groom, Beyond the Easel: Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis and Roussel, 1890-1930, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 2001, p. 62 (illustrated, fig. 2).
S. Barrows, "Nineteenth-Century Cafés: Arenas of Everyday Life" in Pleasures of Paris: Daumier to Picasso, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2005, p. 25 (illustrated, p. 23).
East Hampton, Guild Hall, Selections from the Collection of Hirschl and Adler Galleries, July-August 1959, p. 27, no. 40 (illustrated in color, p. 26; with incorrect provenance).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Nouveau, June 1960-May 1961, pp. 58 and 181, no. 249 (left two panels illustrated, p. 59; with incorrect provenance).
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery and Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Folding Image: Screens by Western Artists of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, March 1984-January 1985, pp. 141-142 (illustrated, p. 140, fig. 5.1; illustrated again, p. 141, fig. 5.2).
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Lot Essay

The four canvases of Les délices de la vie, thematically conceived, mounted, and displayed as four adjoining panels in a folding screen, comprise Armand Seguin’s largest and most ambitious work of art. He was, to sustain himself, mainly a print-maker and illustrator; his painted oeuvre is consequently small in number, amounting to fewer than a score of pictures as listed in Richard Field’s compilation, and not quite as many watercolors and drawings (exh. cat., op. cit., 1980, pp. 69-70). Those who knew Seguin, most notably 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, 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 ibid., 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.
As transmitted through the work of Seguin’s closest friends at the Académie Julian—Verkade, Ibels, Bernard, and Sérusier—synthétisme nonetheless became the key stylistic catalyst in Les délices da la vie. In 1888 Sérusier received on-the-spot guidance from Gauguin when painting a landscape of the Aven river, a small panel that seemed to contain the future of modern art, which his excited fellows back in Paris called Le Talisman. They named their group Les Nabis—“The Prophets”. Seguin attended their exhibitions at the small gallery Le Barc de Boutteville, but did not contribute work of this own, until he was given his first and only lifetime solo exhibition there in 1895.
Maurice Denis, the most articulate theorist among the Nabis, famously proclaimed “a painting is essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a certain order” (Definition of Neotraditionism, 1890). This principle became the chief impetus for the large decorative murals that Denis, Bonnard, and Vuillard painted during the early 1890s. Bonnard made his debut at the Salon des Indépendants in the spring of 1891 with the four panels of Femmes dans un jardin, which were shown again later that year at Le Barc de Boutteville. Well-received by the critics, Bonnard’s ensemble piece surely attracted Seguin’s notice, and may have inspired him to emulate this decorative manner in his own similarly-sized, thematically related series. Seguin set aside his instinctive inclination to treat subjects related to his own native Breton roots, in a primitivist Gauguinesque mode, to attend to this important project.
Seguin painted Les délices de la vie during 1892-1893 (as dated in exh. cat., op. cit., 1980). He composed his subject as an allegory of the pleasurable cosmopolitan pursuits available to a man of means in belle époque Paris. The four panels depict café-concert and dancehall settings, where a hedonist may enjoy (from left to right): drink (with a game of snooker on the side), music and dancing, a fine meal, and finally—with the entrance of an amply-bosomed young lady bearing a platter of aphrodisiac oysters—the anticipation of carnal delight.
A woman as muse presides over each scene—a waitress, a pianist, the diner’s wife, and a courtesan. As a foil to these bourgeois and demi-monde types, Seguin inserted into the dinner scene an elderly, working-class pipe-smoker, a vanitas reminder of mutable fortune and certain mortality. A range of tones derived from the color of “la fée verte”—addictive and hallucinatory absinthe—dominates the panels, which the artist connected formally through an assortment of repeated, echoing motifs, as well as lines and shapes that traverse the frames, running from one panel into the next.
Seguin, in the company of his friend the Irish painter Roderic O’Conor, finally caught up with Gauguin in the spring of 1894, when the three artists happened to be staying in Pont-Aven as guests in neighboring hotels. Gauguin enjoyed the adulation of admiring young acolytes, and brought them along while visiting his old haunts in the area. His entourage at the fishing port of Concarneau on 23 May included his dark-skinned mistress, Annah La Javanaise, her monkey Taoa, Seguin, O'Conor, and a third painter, Emile Jourdain, each of whom had their girlfriends with them.
While this strange-looking group was promenading along the quay, some boys began to harass them, hurling insults and then stones. Seguin caught one of the offenders by his ear, at which point the boy's father ran up and punched the artist, who to escape further punishment leapt off the pier into the cold waters below. Gauguin intervened and felled the man with a single blow. Some of the fellow’s comrades suddenly appeared and a wild melee ensued. A kick from a man’s heavy wooden clog shattered Gauguin’s right shin; he was nearly unconscious when police arrived. Seguin received no worse than the initial punch and his dunking. Even the ladies were roughed up, but were spared worse when some townswomen came to their rescue.
While convalescing well into the summer, Gauguin resorted to large quantities of alcohol and morphine to dull the severe pain in his leg. He worked at printmaking in his room, with Seguin and O'Conor—both of whom were accomplished engravers—providing helpful and stimulating company. Gauguin soon came to consider Seguin his pupil. He helped to arrange his protégé’s solo exhibition at Le Barc de Boutteville in February 1895. “Seguin above all else, is a thinker,” Gauguin wrote in his preface to the catalogue. “By this I certainly do not mean he is a literary artist;—he does not paint just what he sees, but what comes from his thoughts, and this he does through an innovative harmony of lines” (quoted in Post-Impressionism, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1979, p. 127).
Gauguin tried to persuade Seguin and O’Conor to join him for his imminent—and this time permanent—return to Tahiti. By then fully aware of how domineering the master’s personality could be, neither artist accepted the invitation. Gauguin and Seguin both died in 1903, within a few months of each other, but half a world apart.

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