Sotheby’s revealed today that its Paris auction rooms will have an early work by Paul Gauguin: Le Jardin de Pissarro, Quai du Pothuis à Pontoise, 1881, a highlight of the Impressionist and Modern Art sale in Paris on 29 March. The painting has been in the same family since the 1920s. It was exhibited in 1964 in Pont-Aven. Then, again, at a recent popular exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art (Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, 2015-2016). The back of the work contains two self-portraits. Here’s Sotheby’s release on the work:
Aurélie Vandevoorde, Head of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at Sotheby’s France, explains: “While it is always an event to see major works by the great pioneers at the turn of the 20th century, such as Modigliani and Cézanne, emerge on the market, this time it is particularly moving to be able to unveil to the public one of Gauguin’s masterpieces that is so emblematic of his work, and is a testament to the friendship between those two great figures of modern art: Gauguin and Pissarro.”
Rare evidence of the close relationship between Gauguin and Pissarro
This work is emblematic of Gauguin’s early career as a painter. Between 1879 and 1881, Gauguin frequently visited Pissarro, whom he called his “dear teacher” in a number of letters. He would often stay in Pontoise, where Pissarro lived. The latter launched Gauguin’s career as a painter and taught him all the technique he required. These were formative years for Gauguin’s art. As Christophe Duvivier, Director of the Pontoise museums, puts it: “With Pissarro, Gauguin learnt to see landscape and summarise it.” And Victor Segalen writes: “From this master, Gauguin learnt how to choose which colours to put onto canvas. […] What is more, Pissarro taught him independence, and freed him from all control except his own […].” (Hommage à Gauguin, l’insurgé des Marquises, 2003).
The two men met in 1879 and Pissarro immediately offered advice and encouragement to the young Gauguin, who was then emerging as a painter. The friendship between the two men is reflected in a joint work made in 1880 and kept at the Musée d’Orsay: a portrait of Gauguin by Pissarro combined with a portrait of Pissarro by Gauguin.
The house featured in this painting is where Pissarro lived in Pontoise between summer 1881 and November 1882, on Quai du Pothuis. Gauguin often came to see his teacher here, and this painting bears witness to these regular visits. It appears to be contemporary with a work by Pissarro depicting the same scene.
A particularly touching detail is that it is almost certain that the figure beneath the umbrella is Pissarro himself. We know the latter often painted beneath an umbrella, as portrayed in many works and images showing the artist in Pontoise. This is more than a landscape, it is Gauguin’s homage to his teacher, whose presence is suggested here.
Exceptionally, on the back of the canvas are two self-portraits by the artist
According to the catalogue raisonné on Gauguin, these are the first known self-portraits by the artist. It appears certain that they were executed after the landscape. While they are painted on a blank background, both are of an exceptional quality, presaging some of Gauguin’s most famous self-portraits, made a few years later.
A work at the dawn of modernity
Painted very early in Gauguin’s career, this double work already reveals a striking modernity. The landscape is framed in a particular, innovative way, inspired by photographic techniques. If we compare this piece with the version painted by Pissarro, the modernity of Gauguin’s work is evident. It reveals a 20th century style and prefigures Gauguin’s innovations that would come in the years ahead. The self-portraits, with their pared-back facial features, also look ahead to the Synthetist period of Pont-Aven in 1888. With this work from his youth, the artist is fully asserting his identity.