Gauguin, Circle of
T00544 Recto: Study of a Tree
Verso: Portrait Study of a Man (Paul Gauguin?) 1887?
Recto in black chalk and gouache on blue-grey paper, 8 x 10 1/2 (20 x 26.5); verso in black chalk
Bequeathed by the Earl of Sandwich 1962
Prov: Francisco (Paco) Durrio, Paris; through Leicester Galleries, London; the Earl of Sandwich, Hinchingbrooke, Huntingdon, 1931
Exh: The Durrio Collection of Works by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Leicester Galleries, London, May-June 1931 (42) as 'Etude d'Arbre (gouache)'
Lit: Catalogue of the Paintings, Sculpture, Pottery, Porcelain, Glass and Objets d'Art in the Collection of the Earl of Sandwich, Hinchingbrooke, Huntingdon (privately duplicated 1957), pp.8 and 48
This drawing originally belonged to the Spanish sculptor Paco Durrio, who was a friend and great admirer of Gauguin's and acquired a large collection of his works. It may have been among the thirty-seven drawings, watercolours and pastels which Durrio lent to the Gauguin memorial exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1906, together with five oil paintings, twenty woodcuts and three albums with sketches.
However it is now agreed by Daniel Wildenstein, Douglas Cooper, Merete Bodelsen, Henri Dorra and others that this particular drawing cannot be by Gauguin himself, but must be by some other member of his circle working under his influence. The watercolour is close to his style of about 1886-7 (just before he started to use definite outlines and flat areas of colour), but is weaker and more tentative. The most likely artist would seem to be Charles Laval, who worked with Gauguin in Brittany and accompanied him in 1887 to Martinique, and who never fully succeeded in forming a personal style. It can be compared, for instance, with a signed and dated landscape in oils of 1889 which is now in the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. Douglas Cooper, who agrees with this attribution, has suggested that it was made not in Brittany, but in Martinique, and that the chalk drawing on the verso is actually a portrait of Gauguin in tropical clothes. He points out that the gouache seems to be closely related to the bottom right-hand section of the Martinique painting 'Women and Goat in a Village', No.219 in the Wildenstein Gauguin oeuvre catalogue, a picture which is now thought to be by Laval. However, if the drawing is of Gauguin, who sometimes wore pince-nez, it is a very poor likeness and fails to show his hooked nose. The face, with short beard and pince-nez, also bears some resemblance to Laval, though it would be hard for him to draw himself in that position. Lord Sandwich's suggestion in his catalogue of his own collection that it is a portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec can be ruled out, partly because there seems to be no evidence that Laval or Gauguin ever met Lautrec, and partly because it is not much like him.
Charles Laval (1862-1894) studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Bonnat. He met Gauguin at Pont-Aven in 1886, and accompanied him in April 1887 to Panama (where he had some success as a portrait painter, but fell seriously ill with fever) and then to Martinique. After remaining in Martinique for a few months after Gauguin's departure, he rejoined Gauguin in Brittany by June 1888. He almost stopped painting after 1889 and quarrelled with Gauguin, apparently over Emile Bernard's sister Madeleine. Several of his pictures have been wrongly attributed to Gauguin and his work remains little known.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.271-2, reproduced p.271 (recto and verso)