- Paul Gauguin
- Cavalier devant la case
- Oil on canvas
Ambroise Vollard, Paris (acquired circa 1903)
Christian de Galéa, Paris (by descent from the above and by at least 1969)
Private Collection (acquired in 1977 and sold: Christie's, London, June 24, 1998, lot 22)
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
Paris, Galerie Ambroise Vollard, Exposition Paul Gauguin, 1903, no. 26
Tokyo, Grand Magazin Seibu; Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art; Fukuoka, Cultural Center of the Prefecture, Gauguin, 1969, no. 31
Tahiti, Musée Gauguin, Gauguin, 1976
Krems, Kunsthalle, Sehnsucht nach dem Paradies -- Gauguin bis Nolde, 2004
Hamburg, Bucerius Kunst Forum; Munich, Hirmer Verlag, Die Brücke und die Moderne 1904-1914, 2004-05, no. 131
Brescia, Museo di Santa Giulia, Turner e gli Impressionisti, La Grande Storia del Paesaggio Moderno in Europa, 2006-07, no. 206
Georges Wildenstein, Paul Gauguin, vol. I, Paris, 1964, no. 627, illustrated p. 266
G. M. Sugana, L'opera completa di Gauguin, Milan, 1972, no. 450, illustrated pl. 113
Executed in 1902, during his second and last visit to the South Seas, Cavalier devant la case epitomizes Gauguin’s fascination with his idyllic surroundings, and is characteristic of the artist’s life-long search for the primitive achieved in his last years. 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. The dynamic, vivid palette of the present painting reflects the richness of nature that excited the artist, the bright yellow-green tones in sharp contrast to the deeper purples and flaming reds. Gauguin’s innovative and avant-garde approach to building a composition is visible in the way that the tall tree dominates the foreground, with the central figure of the horse and rider appearing from behind it.
Gauguin arrived in Papeete for the second time in September 1895, but having found it increasingly Europeanized and colonized, moved to Punaauia, where he lived in a traditional Tahitian hut (see fig. 1). In 1901 Gauguin finally carried out his old intention of moving even further to the islands of the Marquesas, and on 10th September left Tahiti on the steamship Croix du Sud. He settled on the island of Hivaoa, where life was more savage and the scenery far wilder than in Tahiti. Furthermore, its inhabitants had a reputation for being the most handsome people in the South Seas – taller, slimmer, and with elegant features. Gauguin wrote: “I am certain that in the Marquesas, where models are easy to find (while in Tahiti it is getting more and more difficult), and where in addition there are landscapes to discover – new and more primitive sources of inspiration, in fact – I can do fine things. My creative powers were beginning to flag here, and moreover the art public was getting too familiar with Tahiti” (quoted in Bengt Danielsson, Gauguin in the South Seas, London, 1965, p. 228). It was on this remote island, where Gauguin was to stay for the rest of his life, that the present work was painted.
While still fascinated with the wilderness of the island and its nature, during his second stay in the South Seas Gauguin became more interested in the mythical, spiritual quality of his surroundings. Rather than depicting the island’s inhabitants in their everyday activities, the artist focused on compositions that transcended the particular place in which they were painted, and created his own mythic universe which was a conflation of the religious traditions of the East, West and Oceania. Incorporating his belief in the harmony of man and nature, these scenes often depicted the subject of horse and rider (see figs. 2 and 3). In the present work nature is rendered with a sense of otherworldliness typical of Gauguin’s late works.
In his account of the artist’s final years, Richard Brettell wrote: “In 1901, Gauguin moved to the even more distant island of Hivaoa, part of the most remote island group on earth. From the tiny village of Atuona, where he lived the last two years of his life, he kept abreast of world news, followed artistic and literary events throughout Europe, and busied himself with the decoration of his last total work of art, the famous House of Pleasure. After years of struggle, he came to a financial agreement with Ambroise Vollard who, in exchange for a more-or-less regular income, imposed a certain level of productivity upon Gauguin. Since his works were then in demand, he finished them relatively quickly and sent them in batches to France … the rapidity with which he worked had a liberating effect on Gauguin. His compositions became more varied, and he experimented even more dramatically with relationships of color” (R. Brettell, in The Art of Paul Gauguin (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 395).
After months of financial struggle and deteriorating health, the beginning of 1902 saw a period of relative prosperity for Gauguin, and it was probably during this time of increased enthusiasm and artistic creativity that the present work was executed.
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 man and nature, Cavalier devant la case is a powerful testament not only Gauguin’s own creative vision, but also the artistic and spiritual ideal of his time.
Fig. 1, Georges Spitz, Banana carriers in Tahiti, circa 1888
Fig. 2, Paul Gauguin, La Fuite, 1901, oil on canvas, Pushkin State Museum, Moscow
Fig. 3, Paul Gauguin, Cavaliers sur la plage (I), 1902, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Fig. 4, Paul Gauguin, Paysage, 1901-02, monotype