Discussions of the paintings that Gauguin executed during his time in Rouen, from January to November 1884, inevitably lead to comparisons with the works he painted during the summer of 1883, when he set up his easel alongside Pissarro in Osny, painting en plein air in order to explore the challenges of capturing the landscape in the changing light of day. ‘Superficially the [Rouen] pictures still maintain a fragmented brush stroke similar to that which Pissarro used in the early eighties, but the colour is no longer Impressionist. The palette is dark and rich. There is little differentiation within objects of light and shadow, and often the most intense colours sparkle like jewels against the dark green velvet of the foliage. Gauguin was not yet using the massive areas of colour that he was to employ in a few years in the pictures he would paint in Brittany and Tahiti, but he was already thinking in terms of sumptuous colour rather than the effects of light’ (quoted in From El Greco to Pollock, Early and Late Works by European and American Artists (exhibition catalogue), Baltimore Museum of Art, 1968, p. 86).
Gauguin’s transition owed much to the significant influence of Cézanne, with whom he had spent time in Pontoise in 1881, and several of whose paintings he owned. As he wrote to his friend and fellow painter Claude-Émile Schuffenecker in January 1885, ‘Cézanne […] shows a liking in his forms for the mystery and deep calm of a man who has lain down to dream; his colour 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 russet and green tones applied in quick, diagonal and horizontal brushstrokes, Le Poulailler brilliantly illustrates the power that Gauguin found in Cézanne’s technique and his ability to translate that into his own pictorial vocabulary. The uncomplicated subject matter of a rural landscape, with its historical foundation in the Barbizon school and further explored by the Impressionists, allowed Gauguin the platform to fully explore the possibilities of modern techniques in painting to superb effect.
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