Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale


Paul Gauguin
1848 - 1903
signed P. Gauguin (upper left)
oil on canvas
30.4 by 47.4cm.
12 by 18 5/8 in.
Painted circa 1891-96.
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To be included in the new edition of the Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre de Paul Gauguin being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.


Alphonse Kann, St. Germain-en-Laye & London
Michael Stewart, London (by inheritance from the above in 1948)
Collection Laroche, Paris
Private Collection, Switzerland
Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, 15th May 1984, lot 36
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


St. Petersburg, Institut Français, Exposition centennale d’art français, 1912, no. 226
Paris, Hôtel de la Curiosité et des Beaux Arts, 1re exposition de collectionneurs, 1924, no. 139
Paris, Le Portique, Gauguin, 1931, no. 17
Paris, Galerie Alfred Daber, Natures mortes françaises du XVIIe au XXe siècles, 1959, no. 36


Robert Rey, Gauguin, 1924, illustrated pl. 8
Herbert Furst, The Art of Still-Life Painting, London, 1927, illustrated
Lee Van Dovski, Paul Gauguin oder die Flucht vor der Zivilisation, Zurich, 1950, no. 216, listed p. 346 (titled Nature morte aux fruits)
Jean Taralon, Gauguin, 1953, fig. 59, illustrated p. 9
Georges Boudaille, Gauguin, Paris, 1963, illustrated in colour p. 229
Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin, Paris, 1964, no. 555, illustrated p. 228
Gabriele Mandel Sugana, L’Opera completa di Gauguin, 1972, no. 359, illustrated
Ingo F. Walther, Paul Gauguin, Cologne, 1988, illustrated in colour p. 71

Catalogue Note

The present work was probably executed in Tahiti during Gauguin's first trip to the Island in 1891-93, although Georges Wildenstein (op. cit., p. 228) suggests that it may date to his second visit to the South Seas, circa 1896. Inspired by the lush environment that surrounded him, Nature morte aux mangos epitomises the artist’s life-long search for the primitive and displays the same vividness and sensuous atmosphere and the bright, warm palette that characterised his celebrated Tahitian landscapes and figure paintings. Attracted by the freedom, wilderness and simplicity of this remote place far removed from the Western world, Gauguin produced works in which the fluidity and expressiveness of the brushstrokes reflect the sense of artistic liberation. According to the artist’s own account, ‘Everything I do springs from my wild imagination. And when I am tired of painting human figures […], I begin a still life, which I finish, by the way, without a model’ (letter to Ambroise Vollard, January 1900).


Gauguin’s treatment of paint, applied in thick brushstrokes, in which he builds the round, voluminous shapes of the fruit, is reminiscent of his depiction of nudes, while the combination of warm yellow and cooler blue and green tones resembles his handling of the island’s abundant landscape. The dynamic, vibrant palette of the present painting reflects the richness of nature that excited the artist, dominated by the strong, flame-like reds and yellows, clearly inspired by the sunshine that bathed everything around him. As Maurice Denis observed, Gauguin strove ‘to create the most sumptuous color harmonies in order to represent sunlight.’ In his work, ‘instead of bleaching the color out of objects, [sunlight] exalts their hues, pushes them to the bursting point; it favors the art of painting, and authorizes any excess of color’ (quoted in Charles Kunstler, Gauguin, peintre maudit, Paris, 1937, p. 151).


Having spent two years in Tahiti, in July 1893 Gauguin returned to France, in order to sell his paintings and raise funds for subsequent travels. After twenty-two months of energetic and intense activity of self-promotion, the artist left Marseille on 3rd July 1895. In September he arrived to Papeete, where he had spent most of his time during his first stay on the island, but having found it increasingly Europeanised and colonised, moved to Punaauia, where he lived in a traditional Tahitian hut made of bamboo canes and palm leaves. Fascinated by the simple lifestyle of the island unencumbered by civilisation, Gauguin painted the world that surrounded him. Mangoes, that grew in abundance in Tahiti, certainly attracted the artist for their variable shapes and colours. As the fruit of the soil represented a part of everyday life of the islanders, it often appears as an integral part of larger compositions, usually depicting men and women fruit-picking (fig. 3) or simply sitting or reclining in an outdoor environment, surrounded by attributes of nature (fig. 2). Gauguin’s monumental Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? of 1897 is dominated by the central figure of a man stretching his arms up to pick a fruit.


In Nature morte aux mangos, however, mangoes become the main motif of the painting in their own right. Still-lifes of fruit and flowers appear in Gauguin’s œuvre from his early days in Brittany, executed in a more classical style influenced by Cézanne’s treatment of the subject. It took the sun-drenched environment of the South Sees, and the simplicity of life that surrounded him, to liberate the artist’s technique and palette, resulting in the wild, vivid compositions like the present work. Whilst Gauguin shared the obsession with the ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’ with a number of leading artists – from 19th century Symbolists to Fauve and German Expressionist painters – he was the one to have ventured furthest in the quest for these ideals. A fascinating and highly accomplished image of harmony between the natural and the man-made, Nature morte aux mangos is a powerful testament not only Gauguin’s own creative vision, but also the artistic and spiritual ideal of his time.


Fig. 1, Paul Gauguin, Vahine no te vi, 1892, oil on canvas, The Baltimore Museum of Art

Fig. 2, Paul Gauguin, Te arii vahine (The Noble Woman or The King’s Wife), 1896, oil on canvas, The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

Fig. 3, Paul Gauguin, Rupe Rupe (The Fruit Harvest), 1899, oil on canvas, The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

Fig. 4, Paul Gauguin, La Théière et les fruits, 1896, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale