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Paul Gauguin

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Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer





Paul Gauguin (France, 1848–1903)
Winter Day
, 1886
Oil on canvas
28 ¼ x 22 in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000


Formerly, though erroneous, titled Copenhagen, this painting, Winter Day (also known as Suburb under Snow), may be Paul Gauguin’s submission to the eighth Impressionist exhibition. He began showing with the Impressionists in 1879 at the fourth group exhibition but became dissatisfied with the style in 1886 during his sojourn in Pont-Aven, a commune in the region of Brittany on the northwest coast of France. In this respect, Winter Day is among his final Impressionist paintings.

The influence of Camille Pissarro, who taught Gauguin informally beginning in 1883, is particularly evident in this snow scene. Pissarro, as well as Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley, enjoyed the effets de neige, or effects of snow, and Gauguin followed, using the snow and cloudy sky in Winter Day as a vehicle for the exploration of color. Variations of red, blue, yellow, orange, and green are visible throughout the painting, and Gauguin invites the viewer to stroll down the path already occupied by others to enjoy the subtle colors of winter. The location depicted in this painting is unknown, and the original attribution to Copenhagen, likely made by his estranged wife Mette-Sophie Gad, is unlikely, since Gauguin lived in Paris in 1885-86. Unless he painted from memory, Gauguin probably based this scene on one of the nearby suburbs of Paris, which were easily reached by expanded rail service. It may be nearby Vaugirard or Pontoise, where Gauguin had lived in previous years, although it is also possible that he fabricated the landscape from various locations with which he was familiar.

Shortly after the creation of this painting, Gauguin relocated to Pont-Aven and then to Tahiti in 1891, where he produced the work for which he best known. He applied the expressive color and line he developed in Pont-Aven to his overtly mystical depictions of Tahitian culture, and he preferred the “primitive” culture of the islanders to the complications of Western civilization.