Paul Gauguin’s Earliest Known Drawing Auctioned for Over $90,000

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The first-known drawing by a teenaged Paul Gauguin recently sold at French auction house for $91,000

First watercolor drawing dated 1865 by Paul Gauguin, image © Pascal Proust / MAXPPP
First watercolor drawing dated 1865 by Paul Gauguin, image © Pascal Proust / MAXPPP

This watercolor depicting a Swiss chalet at the edge of a body of water was done when Paul Gauguin was only 17 years old, and according to Rouillac auction house, is the first known drawing of the artist.

Paul Gauguin lived in Orleans, France for several years, and in 1865 made a copy of a sketch originally drawn in Switzerland by his teacher at the Orleans Imperial High School. Much more than a simple imitation, the budding artist brings a personal touch to it; as explained by Valentin de Sa Morais, a student in art history who contributed to research on the work, "he allows himself changes, he allows himself to completely transform the model by creating a body of water and we find that mischievous taste that Gauguin will have throughout his life."

First watercolor drawing dated 1865 by Paul Gauguin. Image © Rouillac via France Bleu
First watercolor drawing dated 1865 by Paul Gauguin. Image © Rouillac via France Bleu

The watercolor was auctioned for 80,000 euros ($91,000) in mid-June at a sale held by the auction house Rouillac Castle Artigny in Montbazon, Indre-et-Loire. As reported by an AFP correspondent, the buyer is a French manufacturer who lives in Switzerland and took part in the sale by telephone. The auctioneer noted the presence of private collectors and buyers from museums from all over France, as well as phone and online bidders from China, the United States, England, Switzerland and Israel. In total, nearly 200 people were in the auction room.

The work is a watercolor and Indian ink on Canson paper measuring 39.5 by 25 centimeters, signed "Gauguin. P, July 2, 1865". Brought to Touraine in the fall of 2018 for expert analysis, the drawing was authenticated thanks to research conducted by two art history students at the University of Tours. This research confirmed that the work was done under the direction of Charles Thought, a professor at the Imperial High School of Orleans. At that time, the young painter's mother tried to curb Gauguin's desire for exploration. The future artist had just failed the entrance examination at the Naval Academy and entered into merchant shipping soon after instead.

According to the auctioneer Aymeric Rouillac, the existence of this drawing is very interesting because "it upsets the thesis that Gauguin was a self-taught painter".

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