It is one of the great unsolved puzzles of Paul Gauguin's tempestuous life. Half a century ago two Norwegian collectors took a painting by the artist to be restored. As the astonished craftsmen removed the canvas from the frame they discovered stretched tightly behind it a previously unknown work from one of the most important periods in the artist's life.
The find, Prairie Martiniquaise, has gone on the open market for the first time in Paris with a price tag of £4.7m. It was painted during Gauguin's last flirtation with Impressionism and before his Primitive period on Tahiti when the one-time stockbroker rejected Western cultural values.
The Norwegian couple, Leif and Lucy Höegh, took the picture to Gauguin's son Paul, who confirmed that it was the work of his father dating to his brief stay on Martinique in 1887.
Jeanette Gerritsma, gallery manager with the Maastricht-based dealers Noortman Master Paintings, which is offering the painting for sale at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris from 15 to 24 September, said the work was generating considerable excitement in the art world.
She said it had been acquired from a private collector in New York. "A work by the artist of this outstanding quality only very rarely comes on to the market," she said. She said it is still not known what painting it had been stretched behind, or how it came to be there. One theory is that it may have arrived in Norway following Paul Gauguin Jnr's marriage to a Norwegian woman. "We don't know the complete story. We know this kind of thing happened once in a while but we don't know why," she said.
During his stay in Martinique, Gauguin is thought to have completed up to 12 canvases while living in a badly leaking hut on the island, now the site of a museum dedicated to his memory. Among the works of this period, during which he sufferedfrom dysentery and malaria, are Vegetation Tropicale, held by the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, and Bord de Mer I (La Plage de l'Anse Turin), held at the Carbet Carlsberg Museum in Copenhagen.
The auction house Christie's has announced that another of Gauguin's works, completed in Tahiti, L'Homme à la Hâche, will go on sale in New York in November with an estimated price in excess of $35m (£18.6m).Reuse content