The Van Gogh Museum acquired Clovis Sleeping by Paul Gauguin

Tuesday, June 11, 2024
The Van Gogh Museum acquired Clovis Sleeping by Paul Gauguin

The Van Gogh Museum has acquired Clovis Sleeping by Paul Gauguin. Clovis Sleeping is a key work in Gauguin’s oeuvre, and the first Impressionist painting by the artist to be added to the museum’s collection.

Gauguin combined his Impressionist technique and use of colour with a deeper layer of meaning in this work. Clovis Sleeping was a breakthrough, and precipitated the Symbolic style for which he became renowned.

The boy with long blonde hair in the picture is Clovis, the painter’s son. Gauguin lovingly painted his cherished five-year-old child soundly asleep. Next to the child is a large Norwegian tankard. Extraordinarily, Gauguin painted Clovis and the tankard from life, but blended in imaginary elements. The decorative motif in the background suggests the sleeping child’s dream world. This adds symbolism, ambiguity and mystery to the work.

By painting his child’s dream, Gauguin demonstrated how he thought about art: the world of ideas and the imagination. This contrasted distinctly with the notion of observation-based art, which was more conventional at the time, and this distinguished him from his mentors Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).

The influence of these mentors is clearly evident in the painting technique of Clovis Sleeping. The pronounced, parallel brushstrokes and complementary colour contrasts are borrowed from Cézanne. The work is an exquisite example of Gauguin’s period as a highly accomplished Impressionist.

When Gauguin made this painting, Clovis and his younger brother Jean were living with their father in Rouen, while their mother and the other children stayed in Copenhagen. When the painter settled in Paris a year later, he took his beloved Clovis with him. Father and son lived there in poverty, but despite the hardships, Clovis was, in Gauguin’s words: ‘very sweet and [he] plays all alone in his little corner without tormenting me.’

Clovis Gauguin dressed up as Clovis, the first king of the Franks, 1884. Photograph: Émile Tourtin (Royal Danish Library)

Although he was unable to pay the fees, Gauguin left Clovis at a boarding house in 1886. Gauguin himself headed to Pont-Aven to focus fully on his art. While there, he produced many paintings that would later be counted among his masterpieces.

When Gauguin met Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in Paris at the end of 1887, he had become a prominent Symbolist artist. The two painters developed a close but complex friendship.

In October 1888, Gauguin went to live with Van Gogh in the Yellow House in Arles. They worked closely together, but had very different ideas about art. Gauguin worked from his imagination, while Van Gogh painted what he observed. Tensions quickly mounted. Following a major clash, after which Van Gogh cut off his ear, the artist friends parted ways and never saw each other again in person.

They did continue to correspond, and had a lasting influence on each other. Vincent and his brother Theo van Gogh (1857-1891) also collected Gauguin’s work. Due to this remarkable history, the artist’s work is central to the Van Gogh Museum’s collection.

Clovis died of sepsis in 1900, just a few days after his 21st birthday; he had not seen his father for many years before then. Gauguin had been in Tahiti, on the other side of the world, since 1895.

Main Image :Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Clovis Sleeping, 1884, oil on canvas, 46 × 55.5 cm Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (purchased with support from the VriendenLoterij, the Rembrandt Association (with the additional support from its Dorodarte Kunst Fonds and the annual contribution of the Cultuurfonds) and the members of the Yellow House Circle)

Stephanie Cime

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