Portrait of Pere Tanguy by Vincent van Gogh

“An admirable demolisher of academic formulae, [who] also had a genius for light…” – August Rodin 

Everyone has a favorite Van Gogh painting. His luscious Haystacks and Sunflowers, his Starry Nights, his Cafes at Night are familiar destinations of unique beauty and joy our souls meander to when they seek an escape from reality. Self taught, Vincent van Gogh invented his own palettes, painting technique and his own visual language. This 1887 Portrait of Pere Tanguy is a supremely beautiful manifestation of all of van Gogh’s inventions. A palette of primary (red, yellow and blue) and binary colors (colors achieved by mixing two primary colors) and soft, systematically aligned  brush strokes make this painting vibrate, allowing us to explore every element in the composition with equal passion and intensity.

Julien-François Tanguy, or Pere (father) Tanguy, as he was affectionately called by van Gogh and his artist friends, was a well known figure in the Parisian art circles of the late 1800’s. Owner of an art supply shop on the Rue Clauzel, Pere Tanguy often accepted paintings as payment for art supplies. This is one of three paintings van Gogh painted between the time he arrived in Paris in 1886 and 1888. You can see just how affectionate van Gogh was towards his dear friend by how he chose to portray him. Tanguy is seated facing the audience, a faint smile gracing his kind face, his hands clasped around his lower torso, he is calm and, and literally centered. Art historians point to Tanguy’s Buddha-like pose noting that “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 colored Japanese prints that the painter and his brother Theo collected.”* These Japanese prints were somewhat of an obsession for van Gogh, who began to collect them while studying the work of Peter Paul Rubens at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He collected them not only for the “obvious aesthetic reasons, but also because they represented a blissful utopian world”**

Van Gogh’s two earlier portraits of Pere Tanguy, one very similar to this painting, both in palette and composition, and a warm, earth-tone portrait showing Tanguy in a 3/4 pose completed in 1887 seem to capture a different mood and a different  state of mind of both the painter and his model.

It is said that Pere Tanguy never parted with this painting and its next owner was the famous sculptor, August Rodin who bought this painting from Tanguy’s family after the shop owner died in 1894. The portrait is now in the permanent collection of Musee Rodin.

* Musee Rodin, Paris.

** Janson’s History of Art, The Western Tradition.

This article ©galleryIntell 2013.