Sotheby’s To Sell A Masterpiece By Paul Gauguin

Sotheby’s
evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on November 4,
2004 will include one of the finest works by Paul Gauguin to
appear on the market, Maternité (II), painted in 1899
during the artist’s second Tahitian period. Among the most enduring
images of Western Art are the oils that Gauguin painted while
he was living in the South Pacific in the 1890s and the present
work captures the artist’s fascination with the mystique of
the tropics and its people. This iconic work is estimated to
sell in the region of $40/50 million. Maternité (II),
painted while Gauguin was living in the Punaauia district of
Tahiti, is an ode to fertility. The subject of this painting
is maternity, and the artist has rendered this time honored-theme
with a rich and highly personalized interpretation. The painting
was completed around the time that Gauguin’s 17-year-old Polynesian
mistress, Pahura, gave birth to the couple’s son in April 1899.
The figure nursing the baby at the bottom-right of the composition
symbolizes this event, while the two attendants holding their
bounty of maiore fruit and flowers reiterate the beauty and
abundance of nature.

David Norman, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern
Art Department Worldwide, said: "This masterpiece is one
of only a handful of great works by Gauguin remaining in private
hands. It represents a peak both in the artist’s career and
personal life in Polynesia. Bringing to life his most daring
use of color, the painting also reverberates with the tenderness
used to memorialize the birth of his son. It is clear that this
subject was of great importance to Gauguin as it holds a unique
place within the Tahitian period as the only subject that he
executed in 2 versions – the other, Maternité (I), resides
in the collection of the Hermitage Museum. In the present version,
Gauguin has framed the three figures in more closely, making
them more monumental, and employed a more pronounced and daring
color scheme."

The subject of women and newborn children had factored into
several of Gauguin’s compositions of this time, and some of
these works made pronounced references to Christianity. The
present work, however, is much more than a modern reinterpretation
of Christian imagery. At the time of Pahura’s pregnancy, Gauguin
was already in his early fifties and had not seen his European
family since he first left France for Tahiti in 1891. The artist’s
absence from his children, two of whom died while he lived abroad,
and his relative isolation in Polynesia, made him long for familial
relations. Despite his willful renunciation of his bourgeois
life in France and his desire to place his art above all else,
he missed his children, naming his new Tahitian son ‘Emile’
after his first son, born in 1874, with his wife, Mette.

Maternité (II) not only emphasizes the overwhelming
presence and physical desirability of the women of the South
Pacific, but is also a testament to the way in which they ultimately
enriched Gauguin’s art. Living outside of the influence of the
Catholic Church, he was free to explore a sensual freedom that
would not have been condoned by the mores of traditional Western
society.

Diana Phillips
Matthew Weigman
Lauren G ioia
(212) 606-7176
fax: (212) 606 7381

For more information visit WWW.SOTHEBYS.COM


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