Vincent van Gogh created three paintings of Père Tanguy during his time in Paris. Julien François Tanguy, also known as Père or “Father” Tanguy, was a paint dealer with a store on the Rue Clauzel, where Van Gogh frequently purchased paints. Tanguy was known for selling products for cheap prices and allowed artists to make purchases on credit or in exchange for paintings, but the supplies were somewhat questionable in quality. Tanguy had socialist political views and had to go into exile due to his participation in the Paris Commune. The artists saw him as a hero who shared their utopian principles.
On June 21, 1888, Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, and asked:
“What is old Tanguy doing? Have you seen him lately? I am always glad to get paints from him, even if they are just a little worse than elsewhere, provided however that they are not too expensive.”
Tanguy had an informal gallery in the back rooms of the store where he displayed works by Seurat, Cézanne, Gauguin and even Van Gogh. These artists later became important figures in the Modernist Movement making Tanguy’s gallery an important part in the development as well.
In the summer of 1887, Van Gogh wrote to Theo saying,
“I saw Tanguy yesterday and he has put a canvas I’ve just done in the window.”
In the three portraits of Père Tanguy we see advancement in Van Gogh’s style. The first portrait, painted in the winter of 1887 and sometimes referred to as Portræt of Julien Tanguy, is subdued, painted in brown tones. The second portrait, painted in the autumn of 1887, introduces Japanese prints to the background as well as brighter colors. Along with painting supplies, Tanguy also sold Japanese prints. Van Gogh had a great appreciation of Japanese prints as well and painted Tanguy’s portrait in front of six of these brightly colored prints as a sign of their shared interest. In the background of the portrait we see the six ukiyo-e, these prints feature a cherry tree blossoms, a Japanese courtesan, Mount Fuji, and a cluster of morning-glories.
The third and final portrait of Tanguy, painted in the winter of 1887/1888, is the most highly developed in style, color and brushstroke. The beginning of the development of Van Gogh’s linear brushstroke style can be seen in the final Portrait of Pere Tanguy.
Van Gogh and Tanguy had their differences, due to money, but in the end Tanguy attended Van Gogh’s funeral in 1890. In 1894, Tanguy died, and following his death his daughter sold the second Portrait of Père Tanguy to sculptor Auguste Rodin. The painting was in Rodin’s personal collection and is now a part of the permanent collection at Musée Rodin in Paris, France.