Paul GAUGUIN | Still-life with fan [Nature morte à l'éventail]

France 1848 – French Polynesia 1903

Still-life with fan
[Nature morte à l'éventail]
c. 1889
oil on canvas
canvas 50.0 (h) x 61.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Transferred in application of the Peace Treaty with Japan 1959
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Gauguin produced around one hundred still-life paintings, forming one-sixth of his total oeuvre. He held firm views on depicting nature, of which his still-lifes are the exemplar. He railed against the prevailing Realist aesthetic. In an incident over lunch with several younger followers, Gauguin lost his temper when describing the transposition of an object to canvas. Gesturing towards a dish of apples, he shouted: ‘For goodness’ sake, that’s not an apple, it’s a circle!’1

Along with fruit, Gauguin often incorporated his own belongings into his still-lifes, especially favourite creations, which personalise the compositions and act as a second signature. The present work includes a Japanese-inspired fan and a ceramic pot, both of which also appear in his portrait, Madame Alexandre Kohler 1887–88.2

As one of the second wave of French artists who made fans in the Japanese manner,3 Gauguin produced around twenty in pastel, gouache and watercolour, mistakenly hoping for their commercial success. They display similar themes to his paintings. In the fan depicted here, a distinctively clothed Breton woman bends in a field surrounded by russet-leafed trees.

The spatial arrangements in this work are unusual. Gauguin has placed the fruit on an undefined surface. The knife, designed to add a perception of depth, protrudes into an abyss of background. The fan encloses the back of the still-life without suggesting the edge of the table or a wall.

In Still-life with fan Gauguin also experiments with a combination of stylistic influences. He owned several still-life paintings by Cézanne, and borrowed and adapted the older artist’s use of small repetitious diagonal brushstrokes for rendering his fruit. Degas was another artist with whom Gauguin exchanged ideas. In Still-life with fan, he adopts Degas’ signature cropping device, with one group of fruit sliced in half by the edge of the canvas. Gauguin also gleaned ideas while working with the ceramicist Ernest Chaplet during the winter of 1886–87. Named Rats with horns,4 the pot included in Still-life with fan was Gauguin’s particular favourite. He rejected perfect glazed porcelain, believing it had ‘killed ceramics’. He preferred the earthy hand-made style—‘God gave man a little bit of mud … and with it a little bit of genius.’5

Simeran Maxwell

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

  1. Quoted in Claire Frèches-Thory and Antoine Terrasse, The Nabis: Bonnard, Vuillard and their circle, Paris: Flammarion 1990, p. 67.
  2. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
  3. Fans became popular in France with the influx of Japanese paraphernalia from the eighteenth century. Impressionists, like Degas, tapped into this market and painted fans with their own designs.
  4. Unknown date, and present whereabouts unknown.
  5. Quoted in A secret history of clay: from Gauguin to Gormley, London: Tate Publishing 2004, p. 66.