Sotheby’s has revealed that an early masterpiece by Gauguin, Le Jardin de Pissarro, Quai du Pothuis à Pontoise, painted in 1881, will be a highlight of the Impressionist and Modern Art sale in Paris on 29 March.
The painting has been in the same family collection since the 1920s, and rarely exhibited. The work is rare in more than just that respect. Gauguin’s paintings from this period hardly ever appear on the market, and the two self-portraits by the artist on the back of the canvas make it truly unique.
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.”
This work is emblematic of Gauguin’s early career as a painter, and is a rare piece that shows the relationship between Gauguin and Pissarro. The two men met in 1879 and Pissarro immediately offered advice and encouragement to the young Gauguin, who was then just emerging as a painter.
These were formative years for Gauguin’s art. As 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).
Le Jardin de Pissarro bears witness to regular visits to Pissarro’s house at Pontoise, and 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.
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.