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Gauguin’s Marble Sculptures

  • January 28, 2014
  • Gauguin
  • 1 Comment

Paul Gauguin is known as one of the artists of the Post-Impressionist movement and is famous for his paintings.  Some also know that he created wood engravings and woodcuts, but not widely known is that he also tried his hand at sculpting.  Only two marble sculptures by Gauguin have been identified, a portrait head of his Danish wife, Mette Sophie Gad, and one of his oldest son, Emil, both carved around the same time.

While still a clerk at the stock exchange Gauguin created the two marble sculptures.  At this point in his life he was simply an artist on weekends and his artistic endeavors were more of a hobby than a livelihood.  The marble sculptures are unusual pieces when compared to his other works and some believe that they might have been carved with the help of a professional sculptor.

When the Gauguin family moved in 1877 they located in a district that was home to a number of sculptors, one of whom was Gauguin’s landlord, Jules-Ernest Bouillot.  Bouillot introduced Gauguin to stone dressing.  Bouillot owned a few studios in the area and rented two of them out including one rented by sculptor, Aube.  He and Gauguin became close friends and perhaps it was Aube who introduced Gauguin to sculpture.  It is believed that the bust of Emil was made in 1878 and the one of Mette was made in 1879. The statues reflect different levels of mastery in the execution.

Gauguin was invited to participate in the 4th Impressionist Exhibition in the spring of 1879.  Unfortunately, Gauguin’s invitation to participate in the exhibition was late so his name was not included in the exhibition catalogue.  A review by art critic, Duranty, proves that Gauguin did participate and that one of his sculptures, probably the bust of Emil, was exhibited.  At the end of the review in La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosite, Duranty briefly mentioned the sculpture, “a pleasant little sculpture by M. Gauguin – the only sculpture at the exhibition that aroused interest among visitors, especially the first ones.”

Marble Sculpture of Emil Gauguin

Gauguin participated in the 5th Impressionist Exhibition the following year and, based on a review by Henry Trianon, exhibited his sculpture of Mette.  The bust was no. 62 under the title Buste marbre.

Marble Sculpture of Mette Gauguin

Both sculptures call into question how much participation in the carving Gauguin actually had.  Some believe he simply created a model which Bouillot translated into marble, others believe he had a small role in the executions of the busts and still others that he is responsible for the carving of the statutes under the guidance of a professional.  The level of Gauguin’s participation in the execution of the sculptures will remain a matter of speculation.

The bust of Emil is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the bust of Mette is in The Courtauld Gallery.