Essay by T F imon , published in Hollar
Source (in Czech): T.F.
tefánik po Gauguinovych stopach na Tahiti, in Hollar XIII/1937, s.1.
English version by
Catharine Bentinck. August 2009.
tefánik in search for Gauguin's traces on Tahiti.
Written by T.F. imon.
In the comparatively small house on the highest storey of a
corner building with apartments in Rue Le Clerc in Paris, where
tefánik lived his last years, the interior did not look like
that of a learned astronomer, but rather as a small museum of a
private collector, or of a notable traveller. Of his trips to
foreigner countries, which tefánik undertook, he brought,
except many reports of his astronomical works, also many
different nature - and ethnographic objects.
These objects were displayed and hung up everywhere in his
bachelors apartment for admiration.
Except his oriental carpets and several textile tissues, Arabic
and Turkish weapons with inlay, popular ceramics, bronze
bibelots, and exotic jewels, he also took along many pearls,
with which he with pleasure played. There were processed and
unprocessed precious stones, rare shells, bunches corals and
precious minerals, too.
Between these exotic subjects, with which his house was filled,
in the living room his special literature was in the library and
there was a work table. In the small backroom of his house used
as a kitchen, was a beautiful panoramic view to north-eastern
section of Paris. Here was a space for storing different parts of
apparatuses, several telescopes, a large lens of a condenser and
all discarded lumber. In the time that tefánik in Paris
arrived, we were a small group of Czech artists, fairly
established Parisians, who were together a sociable, friendly
When tefánik met us, he was accepted by us immediately,
and so a group was founded with a Bohemian character. We were
all collectors of art, Paris with its many interesting
shops did attracted us. Our friend Milan tefánik, was also
affected with such hobby and especially when he was urged to
furnish his apartment. With him we went into Paris, looking for
interesting pieces of furniture, drapery, service, pots and pans
at art-dealers or auction houses like Hotel Drouet.
When tefánik, preparing his first trip to Oceania to the island
Tahiti, where he was sent to by the French company Bureau des Langitude for observation of the comet Halley and performing
other scientific studies and observations, he was well informed
by us about the tragic history of the prominent painter Paul
Gauguin. Gauguin stayed on Tahiti and made there his most
typical artworks and ended his restless, passionate and
adventurous life on the Island Domingo.
At our many meetings in the cafés and
studios, where tefánik came with pleasure, we
discussed the contemporary exhibitions and art in
general. I remember that tefánik sometimes went with us to
contemporary exhibitions, organized by the best Parisian
businessmen like Durand Ruel, Vollard, Bernheim, Druet etc. At a
meeting in café Viennois on the Grand Boulevard, that we often
visited, I had suggested to visit an excellent exposition of
Asian Art, mainly Chinese and Japanese, that was organized in
the passages of the art-auction house Hotel Drouet. After this
visit we went along the Grand Boulevard to the Madeleine, to
visit gallery Bernheim that just had opened an exhibition with
paintings by Gauguin. There were about 30 paintings exhibited by
this famous artist. The impression of these paintings, most of
them from Oceania, was fabulous. He created harmonious stylistic
paintings of tropical landscapes. Also tefánik was affected by
these artworks and considered to make a journey overseas, he
dreamt about the exotic and primitive beauty of the Island
After some time he really left for a trip overseas, we asked
tefánik to search for traces of Gauguins artworks. tefánik
left in 1910 to Tahiti, where about 20 years ago Paul Gauguin
lived, who was stressed by society conventions and fled the
civilized world for a happier life and more individual freedom.
He left his wife and children, friends, and societies in
Brittany. Miles away from the civilized world, our astronomer tefánik was on travel to do his scientific work, results were
important for his future scientific and social stand. He longed
as Gauguin for a glamorous and quiet paradise. Away
from the society and its existence. There was the same
disappointment as with Gauguin, when he became to know the
reality. The inhabitants were brought civilization and were
robbed of their paradise. tefánik only met a few friends among
the French settlers, who understand him, and helped him to build
his conservatorium, offices of a worship, together with the
native inhabitants with whom he became befriended with.
After a further acquaintance and friendly contact with the
Islanders tefánik succeeded to find around the barn of a native
woman, in the fence of a courtyard, hidden wooden shells with
relief woodcarvings by Gauguin. After further search he also
found there a rich carved box, that he probably made for his
tobacco. Somewhere else he discovered a big relief carve work,
and so he had obtained a decent collection.
It is not to oversee Gauguins artwork and I do not know if
there is a detailed list of all his carve print work. His works
is printed in small editions and spread all over the world and
came in different collections. It is for sure, that these wood
engravings, of which replicas are made by me in Paris and by
Kobliha in Prague are from Gauguin and published in the magazine
Hollar, are original.
Gauguin was a journalist and editor of a magazine. In this
magazine he, besides his offensive polemics and fierce satire,
published illustrations of his wood engravings. First the
magazine was called Les Guêpes, that means Wasps, later it
was renamed to Le Sourire. He published and issued it himself.
The first page was decorated with his engravings, and showed the
name of the magazine. There were some variants of the name. Most
of the wood engravings were created on small planks with a
longitudinal section, with semi-circular chisels and needles.
After tefániks return from Tahiti he asked me to print the
blocks. It was not easy for me, because the blocks were dirty and
damaged. I adopted this work with great pleasure, and after a
patient and careful cleanup and restoration, I succeeded to make
prints with ink on Japanese paper. In that time tefánik needed
money, after returning home in Paris. Therefore he decided to
sell some of the things he brought from Oceania and thought to
make money from selling Gauguins prints. From Polynesian he had
brought sculptures (rare exemplars), sought-after by collectors.
Nothing stood in his way, to offer the subjects on the market.
We first went to Bernheim, a gallery we used to go to the past
to see Gauguins paintings, to offer the examples . The gallery
holder showed interest but unfortunately he had no interest in
buying it. He had interest in buying oil paintings by Gauguin,
but of course that we could not offer him. We went with the
subjects to another well known art dealer in oriental art,
especially Japanese, in Rue St. Honore. But also with no result.
Finally I did send photos to a good businessman and publisher V.G.
Dorens in Amsterdam. With him I had a friendly contact. I did
not even got an answer at all. tefánik was really disappointed,
and had to find another source for income.
In 1911 I went to Paris to discuss with
Jan tenc the publication
of my album Prague, and promised tefánik to take the prints
by Gauguin with me to offer these to the Modern Gallery in
Prague. We discussed a price, I remember 500 crones. I had an
appointment with professor Sucharda, gave him the photographs
and prints in the hope he would sell all of it in Prague. But
unfortunately also in Prague there was no interest in purchasing
Returned in Paris I had to tell the tragic
news to tefánik, who was busy with new plans for his work.
Gauguins artworks remained in the collection of tefánik in his
pleasant house on the top floor of a Parisian flat building in
Rue le Clerc. In his appartment he kept many carpets, beautiful
drapery, precious porcelain, bronze, bunches of corals and
minerals, and mysterious idols in stone.
Until the fate of tragic death of the astronomer, collector, and
fighter for freedom.
(Nowadays the blocks of Gauguin are in the collection of the National Gallery in Prague).