oil on paper, laid on canvas
canvas 55.0 (h) x 46.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg, on long-term loan to the from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris , Purchase 1938
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Christian Jean
Laval had exhibited at the Salon of 1880 at just eighteen years of age; he exhibited again in 1883. Born in Paris, he had pursued his artistic studies as a young man first at the studio of Léon Bonnat and then at the more liberal atelier of Fernand Cormon. In the summer of 1886, Laval followed the route of other artists to Pont-Aven in Brittany to compose images of the countryside and inhabitants. The Englishman Henry Blackburn had noted the town’s importance as a location for artists just a few years earlier:
Pont-Aven is a favourite spot for artists, and a terra incognita to the majority of travellers in Brittany. Here the art student, who has spent the winter in the Quartier Latin in Paris, comes when the leaves are green, and settles down for the summer to study undisturbed. How far he succeeds depends upon himself …1
Because of his modest output and relatively short life, Laval failed to reach his full artistic potential, but Pont-Aven was important for him because it was here the young artist met Gauguin and became one of his most devoted followers.
Tall and lanky in frame, Laval suffered poor health, partly due to his dissolute lifestyle. Keen to avoid the poverty of Paris and to continue to work with Gauguin in a warmer climate, in April 1887 Laval accompanied the latter to Panama. There they had hoped to live like savages.2 This romantic notion was soon dispelled however, and reality required that Laval earn a living painting portraits of the locals. On their way to Panama, the pair had stopped in Martinique, in the Caribbean, and by June they returned to this more hospitable location. It was in Martinique that Laval adopted the more energetic and freely painted style which he and Gauguin jointly pursued, and which is evident in the later work, Landscape, seen here. In December of 1887 Laval acknowledged his artistic debt to Gauguin, who had by then returned to France because of ill health: ‘You rolled back my horizons and made space around me … the longer I live the more I admire your talent …’3
Landscape reveals the continued influence of Gauguin, and Laval’s own stylistic development in 1889–90. The forms of the landscape, the grassy hillside, the untamed trees, the meandering stream and the grass-covered riverbanks in the foreground, have all been simplified and delineated with dark outlines. The brushwork is applied up to the contours in an almost decorative manner and there is a subtle mixture of colours. The palette adopted by Laval is one of bright hues. The grass covered hillsides have been painted in layers of reds, oranges and greens with touches of white, and the trees, in deeper greens with touches of red, appear as simplified shapes. A blustery sky completes what appears as an almost untamed landscape.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- Henry Blackburn, Breton folk: an artistic tour in Brittany, with one hundred and seventy illustrations by R.. Caldecott, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington 1880, pp. 128–30.
- Quoted in Daniel Wildenstein, Gauguin: a savage in the making: catalogue raisonné of the paintings (1873–1888), vol. 2, Milan: Skira; Paris: Wildenstein Institute 2002, p. 604.
- Quoted in Wildenstein, p. 306.