He may not be best-known for his still lifes, but artist Paul Gauguin regularly submitted those types of paintings to Impressionist shows, including the official organized exhibitions in 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886. Now a previously unknown still life by the artist has surfaced at Bonhams auction house in London.
The work, which may not be immediately recognizable as a Gauguin, does resemble other paintings by him from the era, making it an interesting addition to the artist’s body of work.
What’s particularly notable about this painting, and his other still lifes from the period, is Gauguin’s possible motivation for making these largely banal, pretty works. Bonhams offers these insights in their catalogue entry for the lot:
… the artist most closely associated with still-lifes of roses at this period was Henri Fantin-Latour. Gauguin, like other artists, would have been aware that this aspect of Fantin’s work had been enjoying success on the British market for decades (witness the presence, today, of Fantin-Latour still lifes in many British public collections) … Fantin’s steady income from flower painting left him free to explore other more personal and imaginative, but less marketable, subject matter. So did Fantin-Latour perhaps serve as a practical example for Gauguin at this critical juncture in his career, leading him briefly to explore the popular genre of floral still life? In 1884, after all, Gauguin had only recently decided to “work night and day and take the bull by the horns” to prove that he could earn a living through his brush. Previously he had been a shrewd player of the Paris money markets and, as his mentor Camille Pissarro was persuaded, his determination and business acumen would ensure that he succeeded in his mid-career change of vocation, come what may.
The idea that Gauguin may have emulated Fantin-Latour because of the latter’s stable income is a fascinating one. Gauguin did mention Fantin-Latour in his 1902 essay “Racontars de rapin,” placing him among his favorite artists, after Edgar Degas and Puvis de Chavannes and before painter Jean Charles Cazin.
And then a tidbit about Gauguin’s art dealer problems:
… 1884 was a lean year in France, when a major financial crisis was affecting the whole French economy, including the Impressionists’ dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Devising schemes to circumvent the dealer of whom he was vehemently critical, Gauguin was actively cultivating patrons in Paris, Rouen and Scandinavia. Gauguin had brought his family to Rouen from Paris in order to reduce their living costs. Initially, he had believed he could find buyers in this city of rich merchants, planning to build up contacts notably among the Scandinavian traders. With this end in sight Gauguin painted a number of still lifes, mainly of flowers, as well as landscapes of the locality.
It’s reassuring to know that Gauguin was simply another artist looking to achieve financial independence.