Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Paul Gauguin
French, 1848–1903
Still Life
1899
Oil on canvas
45.5 x 61.3 cm
Gift of Yad Hanadiv, Jerusalem, from the collection of Miriam Alexandrine de Rothschild, daughter of the first Baron Edmond de Rothschild
Accession number: B66.1041
 
 
In 1899, Gauguin's mistress, Pahura, gave birth to a son, who gave the artist a new lease on life. After months of inaction due to poverty and ill health, Gauguin began to paint again, rapidly using up the canvas he possessed, while writing satirical articles and creating woodcuts. Upon receiving more canvas from France, he set to work with renewed vigor.

Gauguin probably painted this still life on rough burlap in August when he was out of canvas. A teapot and pitcher visually separate an assortment of fruit set in a dish from those on a tablecloth that is draped over a chest. The plants on the pareo hung behind them and the flowers on the tablecloth blend into their backgrounds, while the warm colors of the fruit and the chest contrast with the cool colors of the rest of the painting. The main influence is from Cézanne's Still Life with Compotier of 1877–1879, in which comparable objects and fruit are set on a table in front of a similar background.

Yet Gauguin’s painting is not as simple as it seems. This particular Cézanne belonged to Gauguin, who had vowed not to sell it unless he was in dire straits. This occurred in 1898, and throughout 1899 he waited in vain to receive the money from the sale. His still life thus pays homage to that Cézanne, now irretrievably lost to him. On the other hand, Gauguin felt that both friends and critics extolled Cézanne while forgetting his own innovations. In July 1899, he sarcastically quoted them: "I originated in Cézanne, in Van Gogh, in Bernard...: what an adroit imitator I am."4 Thus, while rendering homage to Cézanne, Gauguin was competing with him, emphasizing elements that were distinctly his own.

Gauguin painted the volumetric roundness of the objects, including the chest's niches, more realistically and his correct use of perspective contrasts with Cézanne's distinctive distortions. To emphasize his symbolic approach, he stressed the number three, as he had in his Still Life with Three Puppies of 1888: there are three utensils, three pieces of fruit on the plate and three on the cloth, three leaves in the background, and three niches in the commode. He also hinted at a reality beyond the canvas by painting reflections of the windows in the teapot, made it seem that the plants on the pareo float in the sea, and left it unclear whether the flowers around the teapot are real or decorate the cloth. There are amusing plays between the objects: the teapot's spout seems to penetrate the fruit behind it, while the plant near the pitcher "tickles" it. Finally, his composition lacks stability: the commode leans to the left so that the objects seem about to slide off it, an effect enhanced by the fruit cut by the frame on the left.

Some of these elements reflect Gauguin's situation: he, Pahura, and their son form a family of three; they have fruit and flowers, but he is insecure and pessimistic at this time due to his lack of money and ill health.

Publications:
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Painting and Sculpture, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2006, English / Hebrew

Digital presentation of this object was made possible by: Ms. Joan Lessing, New York and Jerusalem