The Courtauld Gallery in London has acquired a rediscovered manuscript by Paul Gauguin. Never before publicly exhibited, the 213-page book titled Avant et Après (Before and After) was completed by Gauguin just two months before his death in 1903 during his stint in the French Polynesian Marquesas Islands.
The handwritten and illustrated manuscript comprising 30 drawings and monotypes has been acquired under the U.K. government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme (AiL). Through the scheme, which exists as a provision under British tax law, owners of important artworks can offer them to the nation, which in exchange for the object gives the owner credit used to offset estate taxes. In this case, the tax settlement was £6.5 million. According to a report published by the Arts Council of England in 2019, the government committee placed 46 objects totaling a value of £58.6 million in public museum collections last year. The tax settlements from those works totaled £33.6 million.
During his time in French Polynesia, Gauguin developed the memoir with writings and illustration in a notebook, which also includes 17th-century Japanese prints by Utagawa Kunisada and a monotype after Dürer’s Knight, Death and Devil (1513). The book includes stories involving artists such as Degas, Pissarro, Signac and Cézanne, and mentions Gauguin’s time collaborating with van Gogh in Arles.
Gauguin has been accused of making work with a colonialist gaze by contemporary critics. “Although he was one of the most influential artists of the 19th century, Gauguin is also a highly controversial figure. We will now ensure that this important manuscript is fully researched and made widely available as part of the reappraisal of Gauguin’s debated legacy,” said Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of the Courtauld Gallery, in a statement.
The book was offered by heirs of the original German owner, a textile company owner and modern art collector known as Erich Goeritz. He acquired the book in the mid-1920s and fled Nazi occupation in 1934. During the mid-1950s, it was valued at $85,000 under possession of New York dealer John Fleming. It later was repatriated to the Goeritz’s descendants after a lawsuit.
Sotheby’s Tax, Heritage, UK Museums department advised Goeritz in the negotiation between the Arts Council of England and the Courtauld Gallery. The auction house’s Impressionist and modern art specialist team appraised the piece. Next, the process required the Arts Council of England to establish the work’s market value. Although the true market value of the work is not made public by the council, Sotheby’s Tax, Heritage, UK Museums department head Wendy Philips noted that that the market value is “significantly more” than the tax settlement figure of £6.5 million.
Sotheby’s advises clients on whether or not a work is eligible for the AiL scheme and on where the work ought to head after being acquired. “In this case, it was a very easy piece of advice to give,” said Philips, citing the Courtauld’s significant Impressionist collection and its research resources as key factors in their advisement of the Courtauld as the prime recipient. The agreement allows for the museum to receive the acquisition free of any cost—an aspect that Philips noted is a particularly important aspect of this allocation, due to the financial burden faced by museums during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are few comparable works to this one, though the Saint Louis Art Museum owns a Gauguin manuscript with religious imagery from 1902. Few like it have ever come up for sale. “It’s absolutely a stand out piece,” Philips said. “There’s nothing like it.”