Musée d'Orsay: Paul Gauguin La Belle Angèle

Paul Gauguin
La Belle Angèle

The Beautiful Angèle
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
The Beautiful Angèle
Oil on canvas
H. 92; W. 73 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

La Belle Angèle [La Belle Angèle]

Marie-Angélique Satre, who kept a hotel at Pont-Aven, was regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the area. About 1920, she explained the circumstances in which this portrait was painted: "Gauguin was very sweet and very miserable […]. He kept telling my husband he wanted to paint my portrait, so one day he started. […] but when he showed it to me, I said "How horrible!" and told him to take it away […]. Gauguin was very sad and said, crestfallen, that he had never painted such a good portrait as that one".
The model's bewilderment when she saw the painting is hardly surprising. Gauguin, who had decided to "dare all", broke with the traditional practices of perspective and spatial unity. In a process taken from Japanese prints, he circled the portrait of Angélique Satre and laid it on a mainly decorative background, partitioning the forms and surrounding the figures with a darker outline.

The rigid pose, the young woman's ceremonial costume and the inscription LA BELLE ANGELE printed in capital letters reinforce the solemnity of the portrait. On the left, Gauguin has inserted an anthropomorphic pot, in a Peruvian style, which adds symbolic force and seems to be an exotic version of a Breton idol. Regarded as a masterpiece by Degas, who bought it in 1891, La Belle Angèle is a striking illustration of Gauguin's main aesthetic concerns in the heteroclite assembly of various sources of inspiration which he regarded as primitive and in the simplification of the forms.

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