GOGH, Vincent van
(b. 1853, Groot Zundert, d. 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)

Gauguin's Chair

December 1888, Arles
Oil on canvas, 91 x 72 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Catalogue numbers: F 499, JH 1636.

In October 1888 van Gogh realized a long-cherished plan to persuade Paul Gauguin, whose acquaintance he had made in Paris, to come to Arles, settle in the Yellow House, and found a Studio of the South. Gauguin had been working in Brittany with Émile Bernard and several other Parisian painters. Van Gogh had kept in close contact with this group through his correspondence with Bernard and by exchanges of work. He attempted to extend this system of exchanging information by encouraging Gauguin and Bernard to paint portraits of each other to send to him; he would paint a self-portrait for them. In the end Gauguin and Bernard did the same and sent him self-portraits. All the paintings in this project had the status of an artistic manifesto.

In early December 1888 van Gogh began a pair of pendant paintings of chairs, Gauguin's and his own. These pictures are not just still-lifes, however much the iconography is reminiscent of the allegorical use of motifs in seventeenth-century Dutch still-life. The flame of a candle, for instance, is a commonplace in these, symbolizing light and life. But these paintings are also oblique portraits. On Gauguin's chair van Gogh has placed two books, recognizable from the colour of their covers as contemporary French novels. On his own chair he has placed a pipe and a tobacco pouch, and in the background there are sprouting onions. Gauguin's Chair is a night scene; his own, a daylight scene.