In a celebrated statement, Gauguin explains his attraction to Brittany: "I let myself live in the mute contemplation of nature which provides me the whole of my art. Apart from this, there is no salvation. . . I love Brittany. I find here the savage and the primitive. When my boots clang on this granite earth, I hear the dull, muffled tone that I am seeking in painting" (quoted in B. Denvir, ed., Paul Gauguin, The Search for Paradise, London, 1992, p. 38). This passage from a letter written to Emile Schuffenecker in February 1888 discloses Gauguin's obvious delight in his discovery of uncivilized nature, which for him entailed both the landscape and the people in this region of France. Gauguin's description connects his physical engagement with the Breton soil to the possibility of an artistic, even spiritual, redemption, which became a persistent and guiding principle for his art. His career is marked by a pursuit of the primitive, and this quest began in July 1886 when he made his first trip to Pont-Aven, desiring to escape from the urban culture of Paris into the relatively remote, seemingly uncivilized areas of Brittany.
It was in the Breton community of Pont-Aven that Gauguin first found a context for his artistic production that stood literally and philosophically apart from Parisian ideals. By the time of Gauguin's arrival, Pont-Aven was already an established center for artists, many of them from England and North America, who were drawn to this remote peasant culture in search of artistic inspiration. In Pont-Aven, Gauguin met Emile Bernard whose Symbolist paintings and principles proved profoundly influential on the development of his art. Bernard's own art exhibits multiple distortions, both in the proportions of compositional elements and in the conventions of pictorial space. Bernard championed a revolt against tradition in poetry, literature and art, and he proposed that artists seek to impart ideas and emotions rather than to reproduce direct observations of nature. Like Impressionist canvases, such paintings encourage attention to the process of painting through the tactility of their surfaces, suggesting the physical activity of creation as an unmediated form of personal expression. However, Gauguin's paintings from this period take the standard Impressionist color scheme and make it bolder, more eccentric and daring and exhibit a freedom that would characterize his palette for the remainder of his career.
Many artists who came to Brittany located inspiration and spirituality not only in the land but also in the simple life and religious rituals that they represented in their paintings. Gauguin, for instance, was obsessed with the Breton costumes, which he painted in great detail, often emphasizing the decorative qualities of the pure tones of black and white. In Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven Gauguin depicts three girls in a meadow behind the church whose spire is visible in the background (fig. 1). The yellow hue of the grass and the relative disproportion of the dog anticipate the tonal and spatial distortions evident in the present painting. The orientation of the three girls was also carefully constructed to allow the artist the opportunity to study their costumes: bonnets, collars, and clogs are carefully rendered from three different angles.
Gauguin's compositions and comments often conflate the severity of the people with the style of his painting, and formal simplifications become symbolic of the primitive culture of his subjects. As Gauguin declares about his work Vision after the Sermon (fig. 2): "I believe that I have achieved a great rustic superstitious simplicity in these figures. Everything is very severe. The cow under the tree is very small relative to reality . . . and for me in this painting the landscape and the struggle exist only within the imagination of the praying people, the product of the sermon. This is why there is a contrast between the 'real' people and the struggle in the landscape devoid of naturalism and out of proportion" (quoted in Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven, exh. cat., London, The Royal Academy of Arts, 1989, p. 41). The central development for the artist at Pont-Aven was his discovery of a personal method that allowed him to work from nature, but in a non-mimetic, self-expressive way.
In October 1889, Gauguin decided to leave Pont-Aven in order to escape the increasing popularity of the community and to move, as he put it, "toward greater solitude" (quoted in Gauguin and His Painter Friends in Brittany, exh. cat., Milan, 1993, vol. 2, p. 59). Accompanied by the Dutch painter Jacob Meyer de Haan, Gauguin made the first of several trips to nearby Le Pouldu, a village where inhabitants led a simple life, harder in many ways than in Pont-Aven. The move enabled him to renew his understanding of the Breton landscape. As Gauguin commented, "I've never had the mental facility that others find at the end of their brush. . . . In any region, I need a period of incubation so that I can relearn each time the essence of the plants, the trees, of nature as a whole, so varied and so capricious, never wanting to give itself away" (quoted in (Judy Le Paul, Gauguin and The Impressionists at Pont-Aven, New York, 1989, p. 80). This comment again represents his mission as one of physical fusion with the land as it also implicates his role as spiritual prophet, one seeking to unlock nature's hidden secrets. As Charles Chassé, one of the most important early scholars of Gauguin's Brittany period explains:
In any case, in Le Pouldu, Gauguin would continually praise the charms of the savage life. He strongly urged de Haan and his other friends to follow him in a definitive emigration to those lands innocent of all culture. First, because the savage life appeared more beautiful to him. Light more radiant, colors more lively, lines more sensual, the lack of ugly and distorting veils hiding the human body, a more rational development of muscles and bodies, and everywhere the more elegant and supple rhythms of movements and postures . . . (quoted in C. Chassé, "Gauguin et le Group de Pont-Aven," Gauguin: A Retrospective, New York, 1987, p. 127).
Georges Wildenstein lists an alternate title for the present picture, Ferme au Pouldu, indicating that it was painted during one of Gauguin's final sojourns to this village in the 1890s, just before his first trip to Tahiti (G. Wildenstein, "Gauguin", Les Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1964, p. 152). Gauguin's paintings of this locale, like those of his contemporaries here and in Pont-Aven, focus on the female inhabitants, depicting peasant women in fields or at the water (fig. 3). The present work is exceptional in its picturesque portrayal of a country farm. In this composition, the peasant woman remains prominent in her position, if not her proportion, as she stands at the very center of the canvas, shown drawing water from a well and wearing the standard costume of black and white. The painting technique that Gauguin employes is clearly rooted in the Impressionist technique; it is one of his last pictures to show such passages of impressionistic brushwork. At the same time, he applies anti-naturalistic tones, and in some areas even the flat areas of color, already apparent in Vision after the Sermon, this time to an actual landscape. As Wildenstein notes, de Haan executed almost exactly the same picture, revealing Gauguin's relative truth to nature and his manipulations of color. The rich blue of the roof, from which the painting derives its title, reappears not only in the rocks on the rustic fence and the various buildings around the farm but also on the ledge of the well and in the coat of the central dog. It is through such coloristic fusion that Gauguin found a visual and poetic harmony. As he writes to van Gogh: "Yes, you are right to want painting to have a coloring evocative of poetic ideas. . . I find everything poetic, and it is in the deepest recesses of my heart, that are sometimes the most mysterious, that I glimpse poetry. Forms and colors brought into harmony produce poetry by themselves (quoted in B. Thomson, Gauguin by Himself, Boston, 1993, p. 90). The present work stands at a significant threshold, retaining elements of Gauguin's past but looking ahead to the equally celebrated works of his future. It was in Pont-Aven and Le Pouldu that Gauguin broke free from the earlier traditions and emerged as an intensely original master. As Judy Le Paul has asserted, "Gauguin remained true to his pictorial inclinations and refused to abandon the central theme common to all his works: the representation of humanity at its simplest and most primitive. Brittany, long before Tahiti, was the cradle in which this relationship with nature, and corresponding artistic theory, formed and matured" (J. Le Paul, op. cit., p. 84).
In his book, Impressionist Paintings Drawings and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, Rick Brettell has suggested that this painting may form the third part of a triptych, the other two works being Haystacks in Brittany 1890 (fig. 4) and Landscape at Le Pouldu 1890 (fig. 5).
(fig. 1) Paul Gauguin, Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven, 1888, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon collection. Photograph copyright Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
(fig. 2) Paul Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon, 1889. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.
(fig. 3) Paul Gauguin, The Yellow Haystacks or The Golden Harvest, 1889, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
(fig. 4) Paul Gauguin, Haystacks in Brittany, 1890, Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman. Photograph copyright Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
(fig. 5) Paul Gauguin, Landscape at Le Pouldu, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Photograph copyright Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Le toit bleu or Ferme au Pouldu
Oil on canvas
Please note that this painting has been requested for the exhibition Gauguin's 'Nirvana': Painters at Le Pouldu, 1889-1890 to be held by the Wadsworth Atheneum of Art in January-April 2001.
Musées de Cambrai et de Reims; Musées de Brest et de Mulhouse, and Musée de Grenoble, L'Impressionnisme, ses origines et son Héritage au 19ème Siècle, 1937-1940, no. 13.
A. Alexandre, Gauguin, Paris, 1930, p. 58 (illustrated).
René-Jean, Gauguin, Paris, 1948, pl. 13 (illustrated in color).
D. Wildenstein et R. Cogniat, Gauguin, Milan, 1971, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
W. Jaworska, Paul Gauguin et L'Ecole de Pont-Aven, Neuchatel, 1971, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
R. Goldwater, Gauguin, Paris, 1973, pl. 16 (illustrated in color).
J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism, New York and London, 1978, p. 409 (illustrated in color).
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
C. de Galea, Paris (1940).
Acquired by the present owner in 1947.
The Dallas Museum of Art (on loan 1985-2000).
Period frame on loan and available for purchase from Lowy's, please inquire from the department for information.
The Reves name is known around the world in politics, the arts and philanthropy. Emery Reves was born in Hungary in 1904, and he later immigrated to Paris where he established the first successful wire service in Europe, the Cooperation Press. Throughout Europe he became well known as a writer and editor opposed to Nazism and an avid fighter for democratic ideals. He was also a central figure in the post-war political scene and widely associated with his book Anatomy of Peace as well as the publication of Winston Churchill's memoirs.
Born in Marshall, Texas, Wendy Russell was a successful New York fashion model in the 1940's when she met Emery Reves. Returning to Europe, the Reves acquired Villa la Pausa in southern France, formerly the home of Coco Chanel, in the early 1950's. Wendy oversaw the restoration that transformed the villa into a place where they could appreciate their growing art collection and entertain international statesmen and scholars. Their close friend Winston Churchill was a frequent guest, and he often painted in the gardens overlooking the Mediterranean. At Villa la Pausa, the Reves also enjoyed the company of Charles de Gaulle, Douglas Cooper, John Rewald, The Duke of Windsor, Konrad Adenauer, and Graham Sutherland.
In addition to his passion for politics, Emery Reves, with Wendy as his close advisor, enjoyed a lifetime of passionate collecting in the arts. Their interests ranged from Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings to silver and Chinese export porcelain. Emery Reves was tireless in his search to acquire important works of art and amassed an impressive research library in the process. He was known to contact the descendants of sitters in his portraits by Bonnard or Renoir as well as the authorities on Pissarro and Cezanne in order to collect more information on the works of art he so loved. John Richardson, the noted Picasso biographer who often stopped at Villa la Pausa after visiting with Picasso, felt that the Reves collection "was of the most rarefied quality."
After Emery's death in 1981, Wendy Reves generously gave over 1,400 works of art from their collection, including masterpieces of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and decorative arts, to the Dallas Museum of Art in his memory. Also in his name, she established the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary, which is dedicated to promoting international cooperation and conflict resolution. Wendy Reves' generous acts of philanthropy ensure that many will continue to appreciate and learn from the ideals and ideas--in arts and politics--her husband believed in so deeply.
Property from the Collection of Wendy and Emery Reves
Signed and dated 'P. Gauguin 90' (lower right)
(possibly) Copenhagen, Bâtiment des Expositions libres, 1893, no. 143.
Amsterdam, Stedelijkmuseum, Van Gogh et ses contemporains, September-November 1930, no. 162.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903, March-April 1936, no. 15 (illustrated, pl. III).
Cambridge, The Fogg Art Museum, Paul Gauguin, May 1936, no. 15.
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Paul Gauguin, May-June 1936, no. 10.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Cent oeuvres de Gauguin, 1960, no. 70.
London, The Tate Gallery, Gauguin and the Pont-Aven Group, January-Febuary 1966, no. 35 (pl. V, illustrated in color).
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Les Sources du XX siècle: les arts en Europe de 1884 à 1914, November 1960-January 1961, no. 175bis .
The Dallas Museum of Art, Impressions of the Riviera, Masterpieces from the Wendy & Emery Reves Collection, November 1995-February 1996.
28 x 35½ in. (71.1 x 90.2 cm.)
"La vie ardente de Gauguin", Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1936, no. 48.
L. van Dovski, Gauguin, Zurich, 1950, p. 346, no. 207.
Ch. Chassé, Gauguin et son temps, Paris, 1955, p. 83.
J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1956, p. 439 (illustrated).
D. Sutton, "Notes on Paul Gauguin apropos a recent exhibition," The Burlington Magazine, March 1956, p. 91.
R. Goldwater, Paul Gauguin, Cologne, 1957, p. 80 (illustrated, p. 81).
G. Wildenstein, Gauguin, Paris, 1964, p. 152, no. 394 (illustrated).
R. Brettel, Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, Seattle, 1995, pp. 102-103 (illustrated in color).
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1950.
The Dallas Museum of Art, on loan, (1985-2000).