Paul Gauguin
[Pont-Aven, France], ca. April 27, 1888
Paul Gauguin ALS Best Art Content: Color Theory, Art Critics, Pissarro, Signac, Laval & Other Contemporary Artists
A 4pp autograph letter in French signed by Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) as "Paul Gauguin" at the center of the last page. Postmarked April 27, 1888. [Pont-Aven, France.] On watermarked laid paper, possibly once bifold but now two loose leaves. With one contemporaneous cross-out located on the third page. Expected wear including even toning and isolated foxing, discoloration, and smudges. With flattened transmittal folds, some with minor closed tears, and two areas repaired along the folds. 4.375" x 6.875."

Comes with its original transmittal envelope, also engrossed by Gauguin, bearing a canceled 15-centime blue French stamp, and three philatelic postmarks, one from Quimper/Finistère, one from Nantes, and one from Paris. Evenly toned and neatly letter-opened. 4.75" x 3.625." Provenance: Sotheby's. Accompanied by a full English translation.

Paul Gauguin wrote this letter to his friend and fellow artist Émile Schuffenecker (1851-1934). In late January 1888, Gauguin had arrived in Pont-Aven, an artist's colony in Brittany (located around 36 km southeast of Quimper) that had first attracted French painters in the 1850s. Relatively inexpensive and not very crowded, Pont-Aven proved an ideal watering hole for artists who appreciated its natural beauty as well as the quaint vestiges of Breton culture that they found there. While in Pont-Aven, Gauguin typically stayed at the Pension Gloanec, one of the cheapest lodging houses in town, where he could occasionally offer paintings in lieu of rent.

Gauguin provides Schuffenecker with a progress report concerning his health - improving; his work - nonexistent; and his finances - dire. Gauguin had suffered from both malaria and dysentery during his trip to Panama and Martinique the previous year (April - approximately December 1887), and he was also in chronically poor health. Despite Gauguin's claims that he wasn't working, we know that he completed over a dozen paintings over the course of the winter and spring of 1888, one of them being "Pont-Aven Under Snow, Or Effect of Snow," currently in the collection of the Götesborgs Konstmuseum in Göteborg, Sweden. As for cash, Gauguin's purse was always depleted, especially after he had committed to full-time professional painting in the early 1880s.

The letter is bursting with outstanding artistic content. Contained within is Gauguin's dismissal of prevailing conservative attitudes towards painting. Among his criticisms of establishment painters was their use of a depressing and limited color palette, either white or black. "Is that color?," he asks incredulously. The monochromatism of their work contrasted sharply with his: the bold, bright, vivid colors that Gauguin had borrowed from non-Western artistic traditions.

Gauguin also discusses notable contemporary art critics and artists in the letter, such as Paul Alexis (1847-1901), the French art critic and faithful defender of the Impressionists, who worked under the pseudonym Trublot. Paul Signac (1863-1935), an up-and-coming French artist who would later legitimize pointillism, is mentioned in the context of an article Gauguin read and was not impressed with. Gauguin refers to his former mentor, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) in a dismissive manner; his allusion to mold is probably a jibe against Pissarro's advanced age (the two had had a falling out around 1886). Gauguin's dear friend Charles Laval (1862-1894), with whom he had recently traveled to South America and the Caribbean, is mentioned in the context of his brother, who has been visiting Pont-Aven. Lastly, Gauguin mentions Gustave de Maupassant (1821-1899), an amateur painter (and father of writer Guy de Maupassant) whose academic attempts at painting were usually only politely applauded. Gustave de Maupassant did indeed visit Pont-Aven that spring, residing too at the Pension Gloanec. By the end of his visit, de Maupassant was so sick of looking at Gauguin's paintings displayed in the public parts of the inn, offered in exchange for accommodation, that he threatened to leave the establishment!

Translated in full. Punctuation has been silently added to improve clarity:

"My dear Schuff,

Pont Aven is disappearing under the rain and mud; I tell you I do nothing or almost nothing. If I can take models again I will make figures; unfortunately money disappears and I don't receive any news from Paris in this regard. I am on the road to a complete recovery; I can even assure you that I am cured; or feel that way internally. And yet what to do without battle nerves.

I thank you for the book and for having thought of me - I read Trublot's criticism, which isn't really one. I saw in there an article by Signac; the invention that the article requests isn't new. And it doesn't matter about Pissarro, people there smell mold. There is black painting now, there is white painting. All brings it back to black or all brings it back to white - is that color?

I hope that your work prospers, that your family prospers, that all that resembles prosperity prospers!

Laval's brother has been here for 2 months and we discuss literature. Gustave de Maupassant should come here. Write me about what his painting could be: he was going to exhibit this year at the Independents. I don't ask any more at the moment than for a little sun and a little money. Regarding the first point, I'm not worried, it will come sooner or later, but on the second…

Cordially [I offer to you] my hand, and to all my affectionate sentiments.

Paul Gauguin."

Just six months later, in October 1888, Gauguin traveled at Vincent Van Gogh's invitation to Arles, France, to stay with the Dutch Impressionist. Gauguin's 9-week-long stay there was tumultuous, to say the least; after a furious Gauguin left in December, Van Gogh cut off his ear. Gauguin would return to Pont-Aven in 1889, 1890, and 1894.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


  • Sotheby's, November 26, 1980, lot 191.
  • Dimensions:
  • 4.375" x 6.875"
  • Artist Name:
  • Paul Gauguin
  • Medium:
  • ALS

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