Vincent Van Gogh (1853 -1890)
Oil on canvas
H. 92 cm ; W. 75 cm
Having said goodbye to his native Brabant and his early religious vocation, Van Gogh joined his brother Theo in Paris, in March 1886. This was where he met one of the most delightful characters in the Parisian art world of the 1880s, the man his painter friends affectionately called “Pﾏre Tanguy”. Julien-François Tanguy (1825-94) ran a small paint supplies shop, on the Rue Clauzel, and often accepted paintings in exchange for the goods he sold.
Van Gogh painted three portraits of Père Tanguy, whose friendship he valued enormously. In this work, with which the shopkeeper never parted, the pure colours, the use of contrasting complementary colours, the visible, well-positioned brushwork and the flat picture space are all features of a Neo-Impressionist style that the artist used very freely. He chose to represent the old man in a strictly frontal pose, immobile, lost in thought, with his hands clasped over his stomach, and succeeded in capturing all the sitter’s kindness and modesty. Van Gogh paid homage to the “colour grinder” by turning him into a sort of Japanese sage, placed against a background filled with some of the countless brightly coloured Japanese prints that the painter and his brother Theo collected.
From 1887, Rodin could also admire the writer Edmond de Goncourt’s Japanese prints. The sculptor himself built up a private collection of prints, comparable to those of Monet and Van Gogh. Did Rodin purchase this major work of art in 1894 because he and Van Gogh shared a love of Japanese art? In any case, the sculptor bought two other important paintings of his and frequently spoke of his admiration for Vincent Van Gogh, whom he regarded as “an admirable demolisher of academic formulae, [who] also had a genius for light,” (Rodin, 1909).