Charles Laval

established artist. They then jointly decided to look for inspiration overseas, and travelled together to Panama and Martinique in 1887. Specialists wholly agree that the Martinique works by Laval were in a way ahead of those by Gauguin, like his Femme de la Martinique (Musée d’Orsay). Gauguin was literally fascinated by the Laval works, as he wrote in 1888 to Vincent and Theo Van Gogh: “C’est de l’art” (28 July 1888). It even turned out that after Laval’s death, some of his paintings of the Martinique landscapes were attributed to Gauguin, become more famous than his workmate. Following to diseases and disappointment, Laval came back to Brittany in June 1888, a few months after Gauguin, and painted again. According to Emile Bernard – newly close to Gauguin –, those months were rather non-productive for Laval and he was sick again, with a tuberculosis. He however produced one of his
masterworks, Allant au marché (Indianapolis Museum of Art); and Van Gogh asked Laval for a self-portrait painting (Van Gogh Museum). But 1889 was more successful, and he could exhibit ten works in June at the founding and celebrated exhibition at Café Volpini in Paris. Six were works from Martinique, while Gauguin only exhibit one work from this period. The historian Clement Siberchicot has brilliantly demonstrated how Gauguin strategically worked to seem being the only initiator of the Synthetism and the new art, and to diminish Laval and Bernard role (see Clement Siberchicot, L’Exposition Volpini, 1889, Paris, Edition Classique Garnier, 2010, pp. 105-120). To such an extent that Feneon was misled and found Laval too close to the Gauguin art (see Félix Fénéon, “Autre groupe impressionist”, in La Cravache parisienne, July 6, 1889, p. 1). Unfortunately, in a way, the wealth of great Gauguin works to come, his great evolution, and the fight between Gauguin and Bernard all matched against the little number of Laval works, and have eclipsed the key and forerunner role of Charles Laval, more synthetic than anybody. Nevertheless, he with Gauguin and Bernard set so the base of the Synthetism, and a virulent and planned opposition to the neo-impressionism. The young Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Sérusier and Paul Ranson converted to the ideas defended by the trio, and later founded the Nabis. Back in Brittany during the summer, Laval remained sick, and the relationship between Gauguin and him broke up during the fall. Most probably because Laval got engaged to Emile Bernard’s sister for whom Paul Gauguin had also strong feelings. He painted a few works still, oriented to some subjects more catholic. With his wife, he then moved to the city of Cairo in late 1890, trying to recover his health, but he died there in 1894, at the age of thirty-two. Up to date, only thirty works could set the oeuvre of the artist, paintings and drawing together. After his death, his brother Nino sold what left in the studio, and some disappeared, other were a time attributed to Gauguin. The present masterwork features two Breton girls resting or taking a siesta in traditional regional costume. One young woman appears lying face down on the grass, her two naked feet tenderly huddled together. The other one is seated, facing away from the viewer, with her right hand hiding her face. Her attitude, like a melancholia between sleep, interiority or sorrow, and the detail of two wooden shoes that echoed the position of each girl, arouse lots of different stories. This art of creating narratives is one of the first characteristics of the artist. An additional one is the dense, saturated composition. Without any skyline, the softness of the atmosphere is only conveyed by the faint indications of green and yellow pastel, and the curved lined that form a kind of vegetal nest for the young girls. This sensation of intimacy is made apparent in the closure of the framed image that encloses the girl in the right part. Laval animated the composition with a singular balance between the delicate colors and the imbrication of the multiple curves, all emphasizing the almost abstract qualities of the decorative effects.

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