Edvard Brandès, Copenhagen (acquired from the artist in 1885)
Hugo Perls, Berlin
Suzi Magnelli, Ascona
Otto Wertheimer, Germany
Wildenstein, New York (acquired from the above in July 1954)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1955
Copenhagen, Den Frie Udstilling, 1893, no. 133 (titled Nature morte)
New York, Wildenstein, Gauguin, 1956, no. 2, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Flowers)
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago & New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gauguin: Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Sculpture, 1959, no. 5
René Huyghe, Le Carnet de Paul Gauguin, Paris, 1952, mentioned p. 227
Denys Sutton, 'Notes on P. Gauguin apropos a Recent Exhibition', in The Burlington Magazine, London, March 1956, p. 86
Georges Boudaille, Gauguin, Paris, 1963, illustrated in colour p. 35
Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin, Paris, 1964, no. 178, illustrated p. 66 (titled Les Vases et l'éventail)
Merete Bodelsen, 'Gauguin the Collector', in The Burlington Magazine, London, September 1970, no. 3, mentioned p. 615
Gabriele Mandel Sugana, L'Opera completa di Gauguin, Milan, 1972, no. 25, illustrated p. 88
Gauguin og Van Gogh i København i 1893 (exhibition catalogue), Ordrupgaard, Charlottenlund, 1984, no. 18, illustrated p. 62 (titled Flowers and Fan)
Daniel Wildenstein, Gauguin. Catalogue de l'œuvre peint (1873-1888), Paris, 2001, vol. I, no. 170, illustrated in colour p. 203
Deux vases de fleurs et un éventail is an early example of Gauguin's still-lifes, displaying a strong palette and a lush treatment of the flowers that herald the main preoccupations of his later career. It was painted during the artist's stay in Copenhagen, where he arrived in November 1884 to join his wife Mette and their five children. Gauguin found Copenhagen 'extraordinarily picturesque', however his time there proved to be plagued by financial difficulties, cold winter months and family problems, and in June of the following year he returned to Paris. Soon after settling down in Copenhagen, Gauguin wrote a letter to Pissarro, expressing both his delight at a number of beautiful subjects his new surroundings offered, and his fury at not being able to paint outdoors due to freezing weather. It was partly due to his confinement indoors that Gauguin turned to the subject of still-life.
The present work exemplifies an important shift that took place in the artist's painting during this period, as he gradually moved away from the Impressionist style to embrace a radically new direction in art. In January 1885, Gauguin wrote a letter to his friend and fellow-painter Claude-Emile Schuffenecker that revealed the philosophical direction that would lead him away from Impressionism towards his unique Post-Impressionist style. This important transition owed much to the significant influence of Cézanne (fig. 1), with whom he had spent ample time in Pontoise in 1881. Deux vases de fleurs et un éventail brilliantly illustrates the power that Gauguin found in Cézanne's technique and his ability to translate that into his own pictorial vocabulary.
As he wrote to Schuffenecker, 'Cézanne... shows a liking in his forms for the mystery and deep calm of a man who has lain down to dream; his color is solemn like the character of the Orientals; as man of the Midi he spends entire days at the top of the mountains reading Virgil and looking at the sky... Like Virgil, who has several meanings, and whom one can interpret as one wishes, so the literature of his paintings has the character of a parable that works on two levels; his backgrounds are as much fantasy as reality' (quoted in Gauguin and Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 2005, pp. 230-231). With its rich tones applied in quick, diagonal brushstrokes, Deux vases de fleurs et un éventail finds precedent not only in the style of Cézanne, but also in the painting of Van Gogh. The uncomplicated subject matter of still-life, with its historical foundation in the Barbizon school which was further explored by the Impressionists, allowed Gauguin the platform to explore fully the possibilities of modern techniques in painting.
In the present composition, in addition to the two lively bouquets, Gauguin has painted one of Mette's fans, as well as two ceramic dishes. Gauguin must have brought the blue vase with him from France, as he had depicted it in an earlier still-life from 1884. It also appears in another oil painted in Copenhagen, entitled Nature morte avec pivoines de chine et mandoline (fig. 2). The depiction of the two ceramic dishes in the present work heralds Gauguin's own involvement with this medium, which he would take up in the following year. In 1886 he was introduced to the ceramicist Ernest Chaplet, who had trained at the Sèvres factory, and he soon started working on his ceramics with great vigour. Delighted with the challenge and creative possibilities offered by this new discipline, Gauguin executed a number of ceramics, and often placed them in his painted still-lives (fig. 3).
The first owner of the present work was Mette's brother-in-law Edvard Brandes (1847-1931). An author, newspaper editor and politician, Brandes was a major figure in Danish public life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In order to alleviate Mette's financial difficulties, he loaned her some money against several works by Gauguin, as well as some Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from Gauguin's own collection. Although Mette later tried to pay the debt and recover the paintings, Brandes refused to give them back, claiming that this had been a purchase rather than a loan. The present work, however, is the only painting he bought directly from Gauguin. Brandes's collection, that included works by Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Manet and eight works by Gauguin, was sold off after his death in 1931.
Fig. 1, Paul Cézanne, Bouquet au petit vase de Delft, 1873, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 2, Paul Gauguin, Nature morte avec pivoines de Chine et mandoline, 1885, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 3, Paul Gauguin, Bouquets et céramique sur une commode, 1886, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's London, 19th June 2007
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