Fleurs et oiseau, décor de tambourin, c.1884-1886
Signed with initials lower left 'PG'; signed, dated and inscribed verso 'à Mlle Tessier P Gauguin 86'
Oil on drum skin
Diameter: 7 7/8 in, 20 cm
Painted on a tambourine, 'Fleurs et oiseau' is an exceptional work by Paul Gauguin. Throughout his career he is known to have only painted two tambourines, the present work from 1884 – 1886 and the still life 'Fruits' also of 1886.
'Fleurs et oiseau' marks a poignant moment in Gauguin’s shift from Impressionism to Symbolism. The tambourine has the block-like figuration of his Symbolist works yet retains the painterly style of his Impressionistic paintings. Shortly after this painting was finished in 1886, Gauguin made his first visit to Pont Aven, the Breton town in which he developed his most important Symbolist imagery. ‘Fleurs et oiseau’ shows Gauguin’s style changing, for as he wrote to Émile Schuffenecker in 1888, he did not wish to be “a disreputable Impressionist painter, shackled always to this world”.
The image contains one of Gauguin’s favourite subjects - peonies. In 1884 he painted a number of floral still lifes, such as 'Still Life with Peonies' now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The bird and curling flower in the background of 'Fleurs et oiseau' can be seen in two other paintings from the same year, 'Vase of Peonies II' and 'Clovis Sleeping'. Gauguin often used the same subject in different contexts, creating a world of decorative fantasy. These sensational backgrounds remained a constant theme in Gauguin’s oeuvre and some of his most famed later works such as 'Manao Tupapau' (1892, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo) and 'Self Portrait with Portrait of Emile Bernard' (1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) adopt the floral and dream-like background motifs of his earlier works like 'Fleurs et oiseau'.
Both Gauguin’s tambourines were given as gifts to close friends. This one to Amelie Gabrielle Tessier who was the widow of Claude Antoine Favre, a good friend of Gauguin’s, and the other, 'Fruits', to Mme Reynier, a neighbour. There is an air of intimacy to 'Fleurs et oiseau'; it was not a painting to be observed from afar, but a personalised item designed to bring great joy.
Painted tambourines were increasingly popular in Parisian society in the 1880s. In 1879 Manet and Renoir contributed to and auction of tambourines at La Galerie de la Vie Moderne. Then in 1885 the artistic hub, Cabaret du Tambourin, opened its new premises on Boulevard de Clichy with an exhibition of paintings and tambourines. Alongside Van Gogh, Anquetin and Bernard, Gauguin held an exhibition at the Café in July 1887. With artists such as Toulouse Lautrec - who also frequented the Cabaret – painting tambourines as well, it seems there was a trend in this circle of friends to paint the Café’s namesake.
Gabrielle Tessier (gifted by the artist 1886)
M. Le Tessier du Plessis, Paris (acquired c.1969 and thence by descent)
Tokyo, Seibu Department Store; Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art; Fukuoka, Prefectural Cultural Center, Paul Gauguin, August-December 1969, no.13, illus.
G. Wildenstein (ed.), Gauguin, Catalogue I, Les
Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1964, no.212, illus. p.78
G.M. Sugana, Tout l'oeuvre peint de
Gauguin, Flammarion, Paris, 1981, no.26, illus. p.88
V. Merlhès, Correspondance de Paul
Gauguin 1873-1888, Fondation Singer-Polignac, Paris, 1984, no.246, p.478
D. Wildenstein, Gauguin, Premier
itinéraire d'un sauvage – Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint (1873-1888), Volume I, Skira/Seuil, Wildenstein Institute,
Paris, 2001, no.147 pp.165-166, illus. p.165