Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen)

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903)

Currently on View in H208
Image Licensing

  • This enigmatic view of a winter night in Brittany demonstrates Gauguin’s ability to combine different sources of inspiration into one composition. The steeple and snow-covered cottages depict sites in Pont-Aven, yet the women wear the dark caps of another village, called Le Pouldu. The oxen are based on Egyptian tomb sculpture, while the figures in the shrine derive from photographs Gauguin owned of a frieze in Java.
  • The canvas was found in Gauguin’s studio in the South Seas after his death. While he could have begun the work during his last Pont-Aven visit in 1894, it was more likely painted in Tahiti, where memories of Brittany still colored his imagination.

Possibly from the artist to Victor Ségalen.{1} To (Ambroise Vollard [1867-1939], Paris, France) by 1906.{2} Probably via (Étienne Bignou [1891-1950], New York) to Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Small by 1956;{3} sold at auction at Christie's, London, England, by Sylvia Carewe [1914-1981], Marvin Small's ex-wife in 1966;{4} purchased by Douglas Cooper [1911-1984], London.{5} Probably directly from Cooper to Samuel Josefowitz by 1967;{6} acquired as a partial gift, partial purchase by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1998 (1998.169.)

{1} There is confusion over whether this painting could be the "Village sous la neige" listed in the last shipment of works sent by Gauguin from Tahiti to Vollard or the second "étude faite en Bretagne" acquired by Ségalen at the 1903 posthumous sale of Gauguin's belongings. See Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin, vol. 1, Paris 1964, cat. rais. no. 519 (ill.) and Jean de Rotonchamp, Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903, Paris 1925, p. 221.
{2} It was included in the 1906 Salon d'Automne exhibition, cat. no. 69, "La Bénédiction des Boeufs", as Collection Vollard. See Donald Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions 1900-1916, vol. II, 1974, p. 172.
{3} Vollard's friend and colleague, Étienne Bignou, had opened a New York branch of the Bignou gallery in 1935. In 1936 this painting was sent to New York by Vollard for the Wildenstein & Co retrospective, Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903, March 20-April 18, 1936, cat. no.7. On this exhibition see also A.M. Frankfurter, "Gauguin: Fifty Paintings in a First American One Man Loan Exhibition," Art News, 21 March 1936, p. 6 (ill.) This painting was lent by "Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Small" to the Loan Exhibition Gauguin, Wildenstein, New York, April 5-May 5, 1956, cat. no. 42 (ill.)
{4} See Catalogue of Important Impressionist and Modern Drawings, Paintings and Sculpture, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, 2 December 1966, lot. 62 (ill.)
{5} Published auction price list indicates it was purchased by Cooper.
{6} It is listed as "M. et Mme. Samuel Josefowitz, Lausanne" in the exhibition catalogue Chefs-d'ouevre des collections suisses de Manet à Picasso, Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1967, cat. no. 98 (ill.)

Object Information

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903)
creation date
oil on canvas
27-15/16 x 32-1/2 in. (canvas)
38-3/8 x 43 x 2-5/16 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
signed l.r.: P. Gauguin
accession number
credit line
Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-Aven, through the generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and other Friends of the Museum
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture 1800-1945

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