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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Brown

30. At the Pension

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

Bernard put up at the Pension Gloanec when he got to Pont-Aven, and Madame Gloanec seated him next to Gauguin at the common dinner table. Bernard, 18, wrote to his parents on August 19. He had just met the 36 year old painter: "he's quite something...he paints and draws really well and, what's more, he's no theorist." Perhaps Bernard was comparing the rough Gauguin with the refined Fernand Cormon, who had thrown the teenager out of his atelier? Hard to say, but there's some tone, some reference to an earlier conversation, in Bernard's "he's no theorist," some unspoken comparison that puts Gauguin on the right side. Gauguin, born in 1848, was only three years younger than Cormon--three years that would have made almost no difference to the perspective of the teen-aged Bernard. Both men were well into adulthood as far as he could tell.

Gauguin and Bernard would both stay at the pension for two months, until the middle of October. Long days of plein air painting, and long evenings of smoking and storytelling. Other artists in town that summer figure in to our tale in one way and another; sometimes they become central actors, and sometimes they play bit parts.

Achille Granchi-Taylor (1857-1921) was born in Paris to an Italian father and a French mother. He had come to Pont-Aven in July, about the same time as Gauguin. The men knew each other already. They had met in Paris the year before; we don't know quite how. But they shared a common past as stockbrokers-turned-artists, and the previous December Granchi had agreed to let Gauguin paint his portrait--in return for buying a supply of paints. Gauguin inscribed the portrait à il Signor Achille / amicalement, playing on Granchi's Italian name and using the same signor / seigneur appellation that he used around this time when he inscribed his Fruit in a Bowl to"seigneur Roy." Granchi stalked around Pont-Aven wearing a frock coat with a full skirt, clogs, and a tall hat. At some point during the summer, Granchi and Gauguin quarreled and Granchi, to make his aggravation with his friend absolutely clear, painted out the inscription on his portrait. If you know where to look, you can make out the smears on the painting where Granchi painted over Gauguin's words:

The falling-out was temporary, and the artists remained friends. Granchi settled in nearby Concarneau, married a cousin, and spent thirty years painting glum scenes of fisherfolk.

Henri Delavallée (1862-1943) stayed across the place at the Hotel Julia that summer, but was friendly with Gauguin. He would recall this summer at the other end of his life, writing: "I was the only person, at least during the first few months, who could chat with him." Delavallée was 24 in 1886, and had studied at both the Sorbonne and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts--an unusual combination, as both programs were considered full-time (particularly when one factored in the time spent meeting up with fellow students in cafés). At the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Delavallée studied with leading academic painters Carolus-Duran, a specialist in society portraiture who also taught John Singer Sargent, and Luc-Olivier Merson, who was known for paintings of religious subjects. Delavallée was married to Gabrielle Moreau, who had also studied painting, and she was likely with him in Pont-Aven that summer: their first child, who they named Gabriel Henri after themselves, was born the following April. Delavallée and his family would be part of the Pont-Aven scene for the rest of the decade, eventually settling there.

Charles Laval (1861-1894) was there, looking like a young Harold Ramis. Laval was a born and bred Parisian. His father Eugène Laval (1818-1869) had been a successful and well-respected architect; Eugène had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Henri Labrouste and specialized in designing hospitals. Delacroix had painted his portrait. Young Charles grew up on the edge of the Parisian world of professional artists. His father died of tuberculosis when Charles was seven. Charles studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and showed his first work at the 1880 Salon; he showed there again in 1883. Bernard, when he wrote to his parents from Pont-Aven, enthused that

"the great LAVAL" was also staying at the pension; the two likely met at the Atelier Cormon earlier that year. Perhaps we owe the sobriquet to young Emile's impression that his socially conservative parents had liked to hear that their son was palling around with the son of a well-known, even if dead, architect. Bernard later described Laval as "very tall, hollow featured, and exquisitely courteous." His widowed mother had brought him up carefully. That summer, he fell under the spell of Gauguin.

In the middle of October, Gauguin left Pont-Aven for Paris. Clovis--remember le pauvre Clovis?--was still boarding in Antony, where his father had left him months before. There he would stay until the end of the year. Papa Gauguin may have gone out to visit when he was back in the capital, or he may not have; we don't have evidence one way or the other. for the rest of 1886, Gauguin was busy rekindling relationships with potential sponsors, learning ceramics, and, thanks to his sister, beginning to hatch a plan that would take him--and Laval-- across the Atlantic.

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