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  • Paul Gaugin Masterpiece Estimated at $40 To $50M October 5, 2004

    Paul Gauguin.
    Maternite (II), 1899.
    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, Maternite (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. Maternite (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, Maternite (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.

    Maternite (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.