Still Life with Profile of Laval

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
oil on canvas
Mark Descriptions
signed and dated L.L.: P. Gauguin 86
Dimensions
18 1/8 x 15 in. 26 x 22 3/4 in. (framed)
Credit line
Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-Aven, through the generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and other Friends of the Museum
Accession number
1998.167
Collection
Currently On View In
Jane H. Fortune Gallery -

Gauguin painted this unusual image in Paris in late 1886, after his first visit to Pont-Aven, where he befriended the artist Charles Laval.

Laval's profile, abruptly cut on the right, reflects Gauguin's admiration for the off center, cropped compositions of Edgar Degas. The parallel brush strokes and outlined forms of the fruit suggest the influence of Paul Cézanne.

The tall dark form is a ceramic by Gauguin and typifies his highly original experiments with new media. He was especially fond of this pot, whose current location is unknown.

Given by the artist to Charles Laval [1862-1894] in 1887.{1} Possibly to (Ambroise Vollard [1867-1939], Paris).{2} Schuffenecker, around 1906.{3} With the (Galerie Miethke, Vienna) by 1907.{4} Marczell de Nêmes [1866-before 1931], Budapest.{5} (Alexandre Rosenberg, known as Rosenberg Père , Paris);{6} Baron Mór Lipót Herzog [1869-1934], also known as Moritz Leopold Herzog, by 1912;{7} by inheritance to his son András Herzog [1902-?] by 1938;{8} seized from Herzog storage by Hungarian State Security Police and placed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, in 1944;{9} restituted to Maria Izabella Parravicini [1912-?], former wife of András Herzog, via Dr. Emil Oppler, Budapest, a family friend and lawyer, in 1948; {10} to (Sándor Donáth, Hungary, then Zurich) in 1948.{11} (Wildenstein and Co., New York).{12} Mr. and Mrs. Otto L. Spaeth, New York.{13} Mr. and Mrs. Walter B. Ford II;{14} sold at (Christie's, New York) to Samuel Josefowitz, Lausanne, in 1980;{15} acquired as a partial gift, partial purchase by the IMA in 1998 (1998.167).

{1} This early provenance is given in Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin, 2002, cat. rais. no. 238.
{2} Vollard's name appears in a typescript copy of an unpublished catalogue of Gauguin's paintings (by Douglas Cooper?). Copies in IMA Provenance file (1998.167).
{3} See footnote 1 above.
{4} It appears in an exhibition of works by Gauguin held at the Galerie Miethke, March-April 1907, as no. 70 with the notation "for sale." See Donald Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions 1900-1916, vol. II, 1974, p. 191.
{5} See footnote 1 above.
{6} According to a document prepared in 1998 by Lászlo Mravik, Director of the Cultural Research Group at the National Museum, Budapest, the painting was sold to Mór Lipót Herzog by Rosenberg Père, Paris. Copy in IMA Provenance file (1998.167).
{7} The painting appears in the Sonderbund Internationale Kunstausstellung, Cologne, Städtische Ausstellungshalle, 25 May - 30 September 1912, cat. no. 152, as lent by "Baron Moritz Leopold Herzog." See Donald Gordon, as cited above, p. 589. (It was not purchased out of the auction of Baron Marczell de Nêmes' collection in 1913, as is sometimes suggested.)
{8} The collection of Mór Lipót Herzog was, for the most part, distributed between his three children: András Herzog, Erzsébet Herzog (then already married to Alfonz Weiss), and István Herzog. This painting was included in the exhibition Honderd Jaar Fransche Kunst, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1938, cat. no. 122a, as lent by " Baron A. Herzog, Budapest." He lent five paintings to this exhibition and all were returned to him upon its closing. Following the exhibition, this painting, along with other items in the Herzog collection were stored by the owners in the cellars of the Labor Company at Budafok, outside Budapest. For the history of the Herzog collection, see Lászlo Mravik, "Sacco Di Budapest": Depredation of Hungary, 1938-1949, 1998, p. 305.
{9} A document in the Hungarian National Archives (K 643-1944-201, Fol. 6) states that the painting was found in 1944 by the State Security Police in the Budafok laboratory; copy in IMA Provenance file (1998.167). The seized collection had initially been offered to the Eichmann Sonderkommando at its headquarters in the Hotel Majestic in Budapest. It was among the unwanted materials and was transferred to the Museum of Fine Arts by the State Security Police for safekeeping on 20 May 1944.
{10} András Herzog was sent to a labor camp in 1942 and never returned. Because he had only under-age heirs, the paintings were restituted to his former wife Maria Izabella Parravicini, who had divorced András Herzog in 1939 and married Count Istvan Bethlen, Jr. Police records of a smuggling prosecution in 1949 detail the facts of the restitution and the role of Dr. Oppler. See footnote 11 below.
{11} The 1949 police investigation against the wife of István Herzog claimed that proper export licenses had not been procured for works in the Herzog collection, including those in possession of Maria Izabella Parravicini. While this may have been the case for a number of the Herzog pictures, Gauguin's Still Life with Profile of Laval had been granted permission for export; see copies of papers from the Hungarian National Archives (K 726-1948-732) in IMA Provenance file (1998.167). This is corroborated by the presence of an export stamp bearing the Hungarian national crest on the verso of the canvas. The police investigation materials identify Donáth as an art dealer who left Hungary for Zurich in 1948.
{12} See footnote 1 above.
{13} See The Spaeth Collection, Munson-Williams Proctor Institute, Utica, New York, October 1952, cat. no. 14.
{14} The first Wildenstein catalogue raisonné, published in 1964, identifies the painting's owner as "Mrs. Walter B. Ford II."
{15} See Impressionist and Modern Paintings and Sculpture, Christie's, New York, 13 May 1980, lot no. 32A.
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The Composition’s Mystique

“Paul Gauguin's unique approach to art, evident in Still Life with Profile of Laval, was a process of constant searching and imaginative exploration. This painting is much more than a conventional still life of inanimate objects arranged on a table. Peering into the enigmatic space is the profile of his fellow painter Charles Laval, whom Gauguin met in the summer of 1886 in the quaint village of Pont-Aven, an artists' colony in northwestern France. Is the rectangle at the center a view to another space, or is it a reflection in a windowpane or mirror? Adding to the mystique of this composition is the strangely shaped vessel near its center. Gauguin had begun to make ceramics in 1886, and this object is one of the highly original results of his experiments."

Lee, Ellen Wardwell, Anne Robinson, and Alexandra Bonfante-Warren. Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2005, p. 120.

Gauguin’s Ceramics

“After Gauguin returned to Paris from Pont-Aven in mid-October, he was further encouraged to branch out into nontraditional style and subjects when he began working for the ceramic designer Ernst Chaplet. Chaplet had studied the pottery of the Far East, as well as European folk styles, and reintroduced stoneware into contemporary ceramic production. He put Gauguin to work adapting the Brittany drawings to glazed paintings on stoneware vases. He also allowed Gauguin to experiment freely in making his own clay vessels, which, from the first, were both charming and grotesque. Freed from the conventions of sculpture that lay behind his earlier carvings in wood and stone, Gauguin squeezed, stroked, and cut the clay into organic shapes decorated with protruding figures, faces, knobs, straps, and handles. Although some are extremely beautiful in color and incised drawing, most are merely puzzling. One, which pleased him immediately, is now lost but can be seen in a painting of his young friend Charles Laval. The large, brown vessel has a human shape, the “chest” of which is fixed on this biomorphic form that permits so many organic interpretations. This pot was no doubt signed, like the others that Gauguin produced over the winter of 1886-87, with his proud new logo, PGo.

Nancy Mowll Mathews. Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 76.

Genres at Odds

“Gauguin remained unsure how to pursue in painting the direction he explored in his ceramics. His attempt to absorb and transcend the available alternatives provides the witty subtext of a remarkably strange picture that he executed after firing the ceramics. The mise-en-scène pays explicit homage to Cézanne: a table placed in the corner of a room with walls papered in a pattern reminiscent of the Provençal artist’s still lifes supports a rumpled cloth and a number of fruits modeled with firm contours and directional brushwork. The respectful mood is disrupted by two quite different intrusions: the strange object on the table that seems to face into the corner, and the head of a bespectacled young man, abruptly entering the pictorial space at the right. The position of the model—Charles Laval, a young painter whom Gauguin had befriended in Brittany—is indebted to Degas, who has used a similar compositional device in a pastel shown in the sixth Impressionist exhibition. Laval’s attention appears to be engaged not by the carefully positioned fruit, but by the oddly shaped ceramic object looming above it—one of the “monstrosities” of which Gauguin was particularly fond. Laval wears a quizzical expression, as if he is trying to make sense of what is before him.

The failure of pictorial elements to combine into a coherent whole in Still Life with Profile of Charles Laval is arguably the intention. Gauguin brought together two genres—still life and modern life—and their most prominent contemporary practitioners—Cézanne and Degas—but deliberately declined to resolve them. The ceramic, parachuted into this contested field, introduces a third personality—Gauguin—incarnated as an “authentic,” independent entity. Ironic and pointed, this was the first of a number of canvases thematizing the challenges of creativity. Through the figure of Laval, who acts as the viewer’s surrogate, Gauguin here seems to have invited us to speculate on his next move.”

Druick, Douglas W., and Peter Kort Zegers. Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South. Exh. cat. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001, pp. 69-70.

The Sitter and the Object

“This eccentric, off-centre portrait is Gauguin’s only painting of Laval. (But he drew him in his Brittany sketchbook of 1886; and there is a portrait drawing in the Tate Gallery, London, probably done in Martinique.) Internal evidence suggests that it must have been painted in Paris in the last weeks of 1886, rather than in Pont-Aven. For, as well as the still-life of fruit, Gauguin has included one of the ceramics that he only began making seriously after his return to Paris in October 1886. Gauguin put great faith in his ceramics, not only as objects that he hoped would win critical appreciation, but also as potential sources of much-needed income. Indeed, on his return from Martinique, Gauguin wrote to his wife Mette asking if she had taken this particular pot back to Copenhagen, adding a thumb-nail sketch of it and stressing that is [sic] was worth 100 francs (letter of 6 December 1887). So far, it has failed to turn up and may well be destroyed.

The fact that Gauguin has included it in this portrait, and his obvious concern for it in his letter to his wife, imply that he regarded it highly. And Laval is surely admiring it, caught in the act of paying homage to Gauguin the artist-creator of the still-life painting, maker of the pot as well as portraitist. In no other painting that includes one of his own pots does Gauguin involve the sitter do directly with the object.”

Brettell, Richard R., et al. Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven. London: Apollo, 1994, pp. 34-35.

Both Manifesto and Homage

Gauguin had already included works of art in his still lifes; here, for the first time, he presents one of his own works. Though the inclusion of this work makes the painting to some degree an artistic manifesto, it is also an homage to two masters: Cézanne and Degas. The general manner of the composition, with its outlined volumes and animated background, testifies to Gauguin’s admiration for Cézanne’s still lifes. And the audacious foreground framing of Laval’s profile derives from Degas, who had borrowed the effect principally from Japanese prints. Gauguin was now increasingly close to Degas, and seems deliberately to have associated his young colleague and friend Laval with this double homage and manifesto.”

Wildenstein, Daniel, et al. Gauguin: A Savage in the Making: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1873-1888. Milan: Skira, 2002, pp. 304-308.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Paul Gauguin's unique approach to art, evident in Still Life with Profile of Laval, was a process of constant searching and imaginative exploration. This painting is much more than a conventional still life of inanimate objects arranged on a table. Peering into the enigmatic space is the profile of his fellow painter Charles Laval, whom Gauguin met in the summer of 1886 in the quaint village of Pont-Aven, an artists' colony in northwestern France. Is the rectangle at the center a view to another space, or is it a reflection in a windowpane or mirror? Adding to the mystique of this composition is the strangely shaped vessel near its center. Gauguin had begun to make ceramics in 1886, and this object is one of the highly original results of his experiments.

Gauguin's bold ideas and charismatic personality made him the leading member of the international School of Pont-Aven. Criticized in their own time, today these artists are respected for liberating color from the constraints of naturalism and for emphasizing the decorative element in their work. The IMA is home to the nation's leading collection of paintings and prints by the School of Pont-Aven, acquired in 1998 from the collection of Samuel Josefowitz.

For most I will be a puzzle, for a few I will be a poet.
-Paul Gauguin, 1888