Jacques–Enguerrand GourgueH (1930–96)


1. Grandmêre
1972 (20x16)


212. 'Shore Rest'
n/d (16x8)


254. Nature Morte
n/d (36x24)

   Gourgue was one of the greatest of all Haitian artists. A work he did at age 17 is in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art. Following that, and for almost half a century, he produced a steady stream of masterpieces.
   When I met Gourgue, in 1985, I had with me a photograph of Grandmère (so titled on its back). Purchased from a Petionville gallery in 1972, it was the first painting I had ever bought. He confirmed that the subject was his own grandmother. I gave him the photo; it was still taped to a wall in his studio the last time I saw him.
  T
he model in Shore Rest may be the artist's mother. The painting was acquired 28 years after I obtained 'Grandmère.' (I have often wished that I'd asked Gourgue for a self–portrait: I might now have three generations....)
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   I commissioned Reposair — I asked for 'a vodou scene' — through an acquaintance in Haïti. In December 1985, when I heard it was done, I rushed to Port–au–Prince, located Gourgue's studio, and walked in alone and unannounced. Of the several works completed and in progress, I most admired Reposair.
   'It's not for sale: it's for a big collector in New York,' Gourgue explained. Having moved back to California a couple of years earlier, I didn't realize he meant me.
   We talked a bit. Then … 'You're Mr Ned? This is your painting!'
   A couple of days later Gourgue built a wooden crate, packing his and other paintings in it — including one by Duffaut — for me to ship as 'excess baggage' on my flights back to San Francisco. In exchange he asked if I would bring him a cordless telephone on my next visit.
   I did. Not finding him in his studio, I located his comfortable, hilltop home. Ushered in by his housekeeper, I waited till he roared up in his late–model Japanese car. We then shared some wine and broken English conversation.
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   Nature Morte was acquired in 2014 from a Florida auction house -- for about a fourth of the current asking price for Gourgues of similar size.

  The Garden of Eden was also obtained in an auction, this one by a house on the eastern tip of Long Island. It is the largest painting I have ever bought. (There is no enlargement of this painting.)


99. Reposair
1985 (24x36)

 


261. Le Jardin d’Éden
n/d (60x40)

 
 

   Months after Reposair, early in 1986, Gourgue would do me the great favor of negotiating with Rigaud Benoit fils and — with much difficulty — persuading that young man that I, having paid for his father's last painting, was legally and morally entitled to it.
  The last time I saw Gourgue, in 1989, he joined my fiancée and me for lunch at the Montana Hotel; we enjoyed a long and pleasant time

together.
   I didn't know J-E Gourgue so long or so well that I can say we were friends. But we did one another favors, bidden and unbidden. And if not friendship, it was close. Two decades after his death, I mourn him still.
   Jacques–Enguerrand Gourgue is not just one of my favorite artists. He was also one of my favorite people.

           

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