- Paul Gauguin
- Nègreries Martinique
- signed P. Gauguin, titled and dated 90 (lower right)
- gouache, watercolour, ink, gold paint and collage on paper laid down on board
Galerie Thannhauser, Berlin
Paco Francesco Durrio, Paris (acquired by 1928)
Mr Margisson, London (acquired by 1931)
Galerie Wilhelm Grosshennig, Düsseldorf (acquired by 1959)
Sale: Christie's, London, 6th February 2001, lot 3
Purchased at the above sale by the late owner
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Paul Gauguin, 1928, no. 151
Berlin, Galerie Thannhauser, Paul Gauguin, 1928, no. 128
London, The Leicester Galleries, The Durrio Collection of Works by Gauguin, 1931, no. 63
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, La Passion du Dessin. Collection Jan et Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2002, no. 129, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin y los origenes del Simbolismo, 2004-05, no. 61, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Vienna, Albertina Museum, Goya bis Picasso. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2005, no. 74, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Munich, Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das Ewige Auge - Von Rembrandt bis Picasso. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2007, no. 130, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin y el viaje a lo exótico, 2012-13, no. 65, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Roger Cucchi, Gauguin à la Martinique. Le musée imaginaire complet de ses peintures-dessins-sculptures-céramiques-les faux-les lettres-les catalogues d'expositions, Vaduz, 1979, no. 391, illustrated p. 50
Gauguin: Maker of Myth (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2010, illustrated in colour p. 27
Peripatetic by nature, Gauguin was drawn to exoticism of all kinds. Spent amongst the Breton communities of Northern France, the early years of 1880s had assumed a mythical nature in both his life and art. Always eager for new experiences, his letters to his wife and friends are often filled with notions of travel and exploration. The first journey to the island of Martinique was precipitated by the harsh conditions in which Gauguin found himself in 1887. Financially insecure and estranged from his wife Mette, Gauguin became convinced that a bright future lay ahead of him in Panama, where he reckoned even bad employees earned high wages. On 9th April Gauguin, accompanied by his friend Charles Laval, sailed for the Americas, briefly stopping on Martinique before continuing their voyage onto Panama itself. Unfortunately for Gauguin, Panama’s purported charms were entirely illusory; he arrived at Colón, landing amidst a vast construction site with no drainage, at the height of the rainy season. In spite of finding himself a position with the Société des Traveaux Publics et Constructions, which was engaged in damming the river Chagres, Gauguin found himself on the move once more after no less than two weeks at his new job. It was then that he and Laval decided to return to Martinique, as he explained in a letter to Emile Schuffenecker: ‘Martinique is a fine country where life is cheap and easy. We ought to have stayed there; we should have been working by now, with half the passage in our pockets. Nothing is to be got out of my brother-in-law. In short, in all this we have been stupid and unlucky’ (P. Gauguin, quoted in David Sweetman, Paul Gauguin. A Complete Life, London, 1995, p. 159).
Gauguin’s return to Martinique in June 1887 marks the beginning of his extraordinary association with the tropics. The island made a powerful impression on his art and his sense of identity. The sixteen canvases and numerous drawings brought back to France heralded a new direction in his work (figs. 1 & 2). Tamar Garb argues that: ‘Martinique was only the first of his painterly incursions into the far reaches of the French Empire, but it proved a decisive hinge for his complex self-construction as both ‘savage’ and ‘European’ and his ambivalent identification with and distancing from the ‘native’ people and foreign places he set out to paint. Although Gauguin’s disavowal of the modern and the metropolitan had begun closer to home, in Brittany, it was, by his own admission, only in the ‘tropics’ that he discovered ‘himself’’ (T. Garb, in Gauguin: Maker of Myth (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 24). In the same year he created the present work Gauguin stated: ‘I had a decisive experience in Martinique. It was only there that I felt like my real self and one must look for me in the works I brought back’ (quoted in John Rewald, Gauguin, Paris, 1938, p. 19). The azure sky and cerulean seas surrounding the Caribbean island forms the background of Nègreries Martinique and the sharply outlined and arranged figures evoke the islanders he encountered in Martinique (fig. 3).
The first recorded owner of Nègreries Martinique was possibly Alexej von Jawlensky, the Russian émigré painter associated with the Blaue Reiter group of German Expressionists, which included Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and August Macke. The intense colouration and bold outlines of the present work are closely related to the chromatic arrangements of Jawlensky and Kandinsky's pre-war work, as is evident in the latter's study for the cover of the Almanach of Der Blaue Reiter produced in 1911 (fig. 4). Jawlensky acquired a number of works by Gauguin, and in 1912 they were exhibited alongside the present work at the Sonderbund Internationale Kunstausstellung in Cologne. This pivotal exhibition made a remarkable impression on those artists working in Germany at the time. Nègreries Martinique was subsequently acquired by the Spaniard Paco Durrio, who was (variously) a sculptor, ceramicist and goldsmith. Durrio had first met Gauguin in a pottery workshop directed by Ernest Chaplet in 1886. The pair went on to share a workshop from 1893 until 1895, when Gauguin returned to Tahiti for the second time. Durrio became one of the greatest promoters of Gauguin’s work and helped to establish the artist’s legacy both in the form of exhibitions of his own extensive collection, such as the one held at the Leicester Galleries in 1931 in which Nègreries Martinique was included, and also by instructing other artists - most notably the young Pablo Picasso - in the subject of sculptural ceramics and the Primitive Synthetism his work embodied.