Raymond Duport, Paris
Richard Nathanson, London
Private collection, since 1980
Paul Gauguin had always been skilled with his hands, particularly being fond of working with wood using a knife. Thus, he carried out numerous works of art on wood, for all types of use in Paris, Brittany as well as in Polynesia: clogs, jewellery, paper knives, flasks, daggers, benches, bookcases, wardrobes, bowls, spoons, frames, wine barrels and walking canes. He carved, modelled and engraved with the same care as he did in his other sculptures and paintings. The fact that wood carving had a decorative, even practical value, did not prevent him from fully including it in his artistic production and feeling proud of it.
Just as any great walker, Gauguin began carving canes from his teen years. Sometimes he sculpted only the knob while others he worked with the entire material. The result could be purely geometrical, anthropomorphic, even an allusion to the animal kingdom.
In the case presented herein, the cane carved on its entire surface, we are immediately carried away to Polynesia. However, the material used, identified as hawthorn wood, suggests that this cane was carved and then used, in France, between the artist’s two stays in Polynesia. The wood was first burned, then polished with sand on the smooth surfaces, so that the details, now blackened, are more intensely revealed. The care taken by Gauguin to draw the figures, the most important of which are the ones behind the knob, is obvious, as well as a monogram on the ears of the figure, found at two thirds of its height: his left ear forms a P and his right ear a G.
The manufacture of this walking cane reveals a real meticulousness: we can see the time required to carve these figures with the knife, the complicated technical process of improving the drawings, the placement of an iron ring at the base level, everything indicates a fastidious work. The paradoxical figure of the artist is perfectly illustrated in the case of this plain walking cane. By making fun of what will be said and taking care of the least object and utensil, Gauguin seeks a return to roots, to an art that could not be simpler, where Beauty can interfere everywhere.