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

Portrait of Père Tanguy

Autumn 1887, Paris
Oil on canvas, 92 x 75 cm
Musée Rodin, Paris

Catalogue numbers: F 363, JH 1351.

The sitter in this portrait was the colour-merchant Tanguy, a Breton peasant who had settled in Paris and ran a small paint shop in the Rue Clauzel, much frequented by vanguard artists. His shop had become a kind of gallery of their paintings, for Tanguy would take paintings on deposit as credit for the painting materials he supplied. Van Gogh painted two portraits of Père Tanguy in the autumn and early winter of 1887, both against a background composed of Japanese colour woodcuts which he had begun to collect, firstly in Antwerp and then more avidly in Paris. Tanguy is placed massively in the centre of the canvas, facing the spectator. But the Paris merchant is presented not against an urban or even French setting, but in an imaginary context composed of Japanese seasonal scenes and costumed figures. Although this choice of background indicates van Gogh's evident preoccupation with Japanese prints - he also made individual copies of selected prints at this date - the painting does not indicate any profound influence of Japanese graphic styles or perspectival devices upon his work. But it is important to note that the motifs represented in the prints anticipate those that van Gogh would shortly resume when he left Paris and moved once again into a more rural setting - seasonal landscapes and portraits of regional types in costume.

In his portraits of ordinary people van Gogh emphasized their sadness, dignity and kindness. The Portrait of Père Tanguy is a good example.

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