The Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ Gallery (Samuel Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ Trust) has acquired Racontars de Rapin (or Tales of an Apprentice Painter), the last known manuscript by the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin to be owned privately. This significant text joins Avant et aprÃ¨s (Before and After), the illustrated manuscript by Gauguin which The Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ received in 2020 as part of the Governmentâ€™s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council.
Recontars de Rapin enhances The Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµâ€™s holding of Gauguinâ€™s work, which is the most significant in the UK, and joins its masterpieces from the artistâ€™s Tahitian period, Nevermore and Te Rerioa. It also further strengthens The Galleryâ€™s resources forÂ scholarship of the period. The manuscript gives a first-hand account of a key turning point in art, looking back at Impressionism and forward to the developments to come. The Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ plans to digitise and share the transcription and translation of Racontars de Rapin online, alongside Avant et aprÃ¨s. It will be available for study, by appointment, in the Prints and Drawings Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ Room at The Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ.
Racontars de Rapin was completed in September 1902 in Atuona, Gauguinâ€™s home on the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa, French Polynesia, just a few months before he wrote Avant et aprÃ¨s. As he would later do with Avant et aprÃ¨s, Gauguin sent the manuscript to the Belgian Symbolist poet and critic AndrÃ© Fontainas, entrusting him with the task of publishing it in the prestigious literary magazine Mercure de France. It was rejected by the editors and did not appear in printed form until 1951.
By the late 1890s, writing had become a key part of Gauguinâ€™s creative practice. It was in his texts, not only in his artworks, that the artist began to forge his own myth. Through words, as well as images, the artist sought to challenge ideas, as well as cultural and social norms. Racontars de Rapin is Gauguinâ€™s manifesto for modern art and artistic freedom from the limitations imposed by art criticism. In it the artist expresses his views in elaborate ways, at times bluntly criticising preconceived ideas, at times using ironyâ€” as he does in the title. Rapin indicates an apprentice painter, while by then his fame was well established, but at the turn of the century it had also come to define a bohemian artist; Gauguin probably played with its ambiguity.
Composed of 28 neatly written pages, the manuscript addresses artists and art movements, mainly Gauguinâ€™s contemporaries but also those who came before him. Through his comments on art and artists, both those he admires and those he criticises, Gauguin squarely targets the artistic establishment of his day, and advocates looking at art afresh, freed from the boundaries imposed by critics and movements. As is often the case with his writings, especially his later texts, Gauguin also indulged in provocative gender and racial stereotypes that are unacceptable today.
The manuscript has never been exhibited. It most recently belonged to Sam Josefowitz (1921-2015), who in his early collecting life focused on the work of Gauguin and the Pont Aven school of artists who gathered in remote areas of Brittany, France, in the latter part of the 19th century.
Composed of 28 pages (7 double leaves). Black ink on paper.
32 x 20 cm.
Sent by Gauguin to AndrÃ© Fontainas; private collection; sold at auction in New York (Christie’s New York, 14 December 1984, lot 145); where it was acquired by Sam Josefowitz, Pully; thence by descent; sold at auction (Christieâ€™s Paris, 21 October 2023, lot 411); where acquired by the Samuel Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ Trust, The Âé¶¹ÊÓÆµ, London.