Monthly Archives: April 2016

Corporatism and Superdelegates favor the Democratic Party establishment in 2016. Do they win the battle and lose the war?

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By John Walsh – 4:00 pm Chicago time, April 27, 2016.

Despite the corporate media’s unabashed favoritism for Hillary Clinton when reporting the news – it reminds me of the Cold War days when Americans were told about the partisan propaganda at Pravda (a frightening journalistic prospect should it ever arrive in some form to America I always believed) – the delegate count from last night’s five primaries (4 closed and 1 hybrid) comes down to this: a net gain of 52 PLEDGED delegates for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders– or around 2% of the total needed to reach the magic number of 2383 to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Today Bernie Sanders has 1299 PLEDGED delegates and  Hillary Clinton  has 1632 PLEDGED delegates. Neither candidate can likely reach 2383 – that is, not without the party hacks called SUPERdelegates of which Clinton today has 519 and Sanders has 39. It should be well known that the Democratic Party’s nominating process as it is presently constituted is a corrupt system, rigged, drunk with big money and worship of the status quo, and that its special category SUPERdelegates have flocked and will likely stay flocked to Clinton because they are birds of a feather. The SUPERdelegates’ reasons to support Clinton transcend her qualifications and whether or not she can win these primaries outright under present rules deemed fair. In Connecticut’s closed primary last night, for instance, Clinton won a net gain of 2 PLEDGED delegates over Sanders based on the people’s vote in that contest but she also received an additional 15 SUPERdelegates there (Bernie picked up zero in the state). In Connecticut Hillary won over 170,000 votes to gain 27 PLEDGED delegates and Sanders won over 153,000 votes to gain 25 PLEDGED delegates – or about 6,300 voters per delegate. Yet Clinton picked up those additional 15 SUPERdelegates cast by 15 fellow Americans whose vote, in this case, has a power equivalent to a bloc of 95,000 ordinary Connecticut voters and, further, basically ginned up the Clinton vote by almost 50%. This sort of election process doesn’t take seriously the enshrined  “one man, one vote” rule but is a hybrid of the ordinary voter and a handful of royalty voters who can beknight a candidate and the happy few in the voter pool who agree with them. This Clinton delegate lead and the thought police at the corporate media reporting that she is the “presumptive nominee” is part chimera as it is based very much on the SUPERdelegate regime for which no other quality is required except to be somehow part of an establishment clique. Democratic Party – my foot.

sanders in West Virginia
Bernie Sanders in West Virginia where he has a 30-point lead in ordinary voter polls over Hillary Clinton for the May 10, 2016 primary. Yet they have so far split the number of pledged SUPERdelegates though no votes have been counted.
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Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia where on April 26, 2016 she won in that state’s primary by 20% in the popular vote over Sanders but won by 1,800% in the SUPERdelegates vote.

It may be expected that in states where Hillary won the popular vote and most of the PLEDGED delegates that she might pick up more of these brazen SUPERdelegates. Yet this was not the case in 2016 in New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Maine, “Dems Abroad,” Michigan, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island. In these 12 states (and one constituency) it was Bernie Sanders who won the popular vote and the most PLEDGED delegates but Clinton who picked up all or most of the SUPERdelegates – an additional 77 of them in fact. In a nomination process for president based on delegate count – which delegates? – this kind of system appears (is) “rigged.” Voting results in other states exacerbates this perception of politburo-like favoritism inherent in the DNC and its SUPERdelegate regime – namely, that when Clinton won the popular vote and most PLEDGED delegates she also still gained all or most of the SUPERdelegates. What gives, America?

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In all of last night’s five primary states, Clinton picked up 63 SUPERdelegates and Bernie picked up one (in Maryland, a state he lost). Bernie won over 1.1 million votes for his one SUPERdelegate and Clinton won about 27,000 votes for each of hers. SUPERdelegates are where the action is! If this is the manner in which the Dems nominate their party’s presidential candidate I may have to think twice about voting for that person in the general election. Unfortunately, it is likely some or all of these wildly unfair SUPERdelegates will facilitate the nomination of either Sanders or Clinton unless one of those candidates achieves the magic number of 2383 in PLEDGED delegates. This is a worthy goal which still remains possible – especially for Clinton.

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There are 1209 PLEDGED delegates on the table in the final 14 contests and a much smaller indeterminate number of UNPLEDGED delegates (about 195). Based on PLEDGED delegates, Hillary would need to win from this point onward 751 of them (62%) and Sanders 1084 of them (89%) – high, and, impossibly high electoral numbers for each – in order to secure 2383 in PLEDGED delegates. Hillary’s challenge to go into the convention with enough PLEDGED delegates has an outside hope of being realistically achievable but it remains likely she will need SUPERdelegates to put her over the top as the party’s standard bearer. So, if an incomplete slate of PLEDGED delegates is all that one needs, why not nominate Bernie? Under this arcane and untrustworthy convention system, Hillary appears to hold most of the political insider cards. Sanders can fight on and hope to bargain for platform items but the Clinton people will be looking over his shoulder to his voters. How many of Bernie’s voters do they need to win the general election in November? From that point, deals will be crafted. If Clintonites can peel off enough Bernie voters outright with corporate media-driven stories about party unity and fear mongering over Donald Trump, then the Clinton-Sanders deal may be weaker. But if enough Bernie supporters getting on board is problematic –if they clamor for Sanders to be the nominee or on the ticket, or that their political beliefs be incorporated into the 2016 Democratic Party platform on campaign finance reform, breaking up the big banks, free public university education, universal medical insurance, a fracking ban, a $15 minimum wage, etc.– all positions spurned by Clinton and her voters – then things could get hugely interesting in Philadelphia in July.

By the way, for each of the 14 upcoming primary contests – from Indiana on May 3 to Washington, D.C. on June 14 – Clinton already has 106 SUPERdelegates committed to her candidacy (Bernie has 8). Not a single vote by the people has been counted in any of those places. It’s rigged. Welcome to the party.

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Corporate media propping up the big money candidate.

NOTES

30 point lead in WV – http://mic.com/articles/136039/sanders-has-a-30-point-lead-over-clinton-in-west-virginia-here-s-why-that-matters#.MU5rBef2z

For primary election results – see: http://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/president

For state by state delegate distribution – see: http://www.electionprojection.com/democratic-nomination-delegates/

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Part 5 “Oviri (Savage).” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

#4 Oviri Savage

fig.12. Paul Gauguin, Oviri (Savage), 1894 – woodcut printed in black on cream Japan laid paper, 8.03 x 4.56 inches (204 x 116 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Clarence Buckingham Collection.

By John P. Walsh

By 1887 Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) had created over 50 ceramic sculptures as well as several carved decorative panels, so during his time in Paris between 1893 and 1895 it may be expected that he would create a woodcut based on his most recent and important discovery of the Paris interval: his hideous Oviri.

OVIRI CERAMIC

fig.13. Gauguin, Oviri, 1894, stoneware, 75 x 19 x 27 cm, Musée d’Orsay.

Gauguin made a large ceramic of Oviri (fig. 13) – the Tahitian name translates as “wild” or “savage” and more recently as “turned into oneself” – in the winter of 1894-1895. The artist submitted it to the annual exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts for April 1895. When Gauguin discovered this mysterious figure who holds a blunted she-wolf, crushing the life out of her cub – occasionally understood as a symbol of female sexual potency – he did not let her go.55 In this print impression– and he made 19 prints from the same wood block, none of which are exactly alike – Gauguin’s Oviri is encountered in the primeval forest as inky blackness. The ceramic, envisioned by the artist as a savage, modern funerary monument (fig.14), was rejected by the judges for inclusion into the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Gauguin’s latest Tahiti-inspired art was deemed too ugly even by an organization of artists that, since its renewed inception in 1890, is seen as Europe’s first Secessionist movement. Although Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was a founding member of the group and since 1891 working on his commission from the Société de Gens Lettres for a Paris Balzac statue (that “obese monstrosity”) it was ceramist Ernst Chaplet who insisted on Gauguin’s admittance.56

CHAPLET Paul Marsan, dit DORNAC (1858-1941)

Paul Marsan, called Dornac (1858-1941), photograph of Ernest Chaplet (Sèvres, 1836 – Choisy-le-Roi, 1909), octobre 21, 1904.

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fig. 14. Bronze Oviri on the grave of Paul Gauguin on the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa.

Where exactly the ceramic Oviri was displayed in the salon is unclear, but its subsequent route into the Musée d’Orsay in 1987 is highly circuitous.57 Gauguin often exploited favorite images by repeating them in various media – and the ceramic transposed to the print depicts his goddess showering a black light that blots out most of the natural reality around her. In one more Gauguin print from this time period that fits in the palm of the hand, the artist offers a splendor of darkness, the mystery of a palm frond forest, and a stark confrontation with Oviri who is, as Gauguin described to Stéphane Mallarmé on the poet’s version of the print, “a strange figure, cruel enigma.”58

Les sculptures de Monsieur Rodin au Salon

Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1898.

NOTES:

  1. “turned into oneself” – Anne Pingeot, “Oviri,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, p. 140; “symbol of female sexual potency” – Mathews, p. 203; Gauguin’s ceramic and carved panel output -Barbara Stern Shapiro, “Shapes and Harmonies of Another World,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, pp. 117 and 126.
  2. 19 prints from one wood block – Shapiro, p. 126; savage, modern funerary monument – Mathews, p.208; first secessionist movement – Hans-Ulrich Simon, Sezessionismus. Kunstgewerbe in literarischer und bildender Kunst,: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart ,1976, p. 47; Gauguin and the 1895 Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts salon – Mathews, p. 208; “obese monstrosity” – Grunfeld, Frederic V., Rodin:A Biography, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1987, p. 374.
  3. Anne Pingeot, “Oviri,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, pp. 136-138.
  4. Quoted in Shapiro, Gauguin Tahiti, p. 128.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

MORE WORK BY PAUL GAUGUIN in THE FRANCE INTERLUDE:

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Reclining Nude, 1895, 9 1/2 x 15 1/2 in., counterproof from a design in pastel, selectively reworked, on japan paper. Private collection. Apparent derivative study for Manao tupapau (1892).

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Reclining Nude; study for Aita tamari vahine Judith te parari, 1894/95, 11 3/4 x 24 1/4 inches, charcoal black chalk, and pastel on laid paper; verso worked over with brush and water. Private collection.

Part 4 “Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina.” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

#3 TAHITIAN IDOL-THE GODDESS HINA

Fig. 9. Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina, 1894/95 – woodcut in black ink, over ochre and red, with touches of white and green inks, on tan wove paper, 5.78 x 4.72 inches (147 x 120 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.

By John P. Walsh

For some pieces of graphic art Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) uses the moniker “P.Go.” to sign them.52  In Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina (fig.9), it is present in the lower left corner slightly on its side. While Day of the Gods, painted in Paris in 1894 at the same time as the woodcut, received a simple signature of “Gauguin” (the painting was not exhibited in the artist’s lifetime), Gauguin sometimes used these new graphic art works as “image translations” to explain his Tahitian art to the Parisian public. This may explain the pretension of the anagram here.53

Gauguin’s obsession with the primitive, the savage, is evident in this work. The small woodcut is an image of a Tahitian goddess where the composition’s diverse elements congeal to a single mask to be held in the palm of one’s hand. Goddess Hina, immobile and august, is fitted into the composition as a first among equals. A tree fills the left border like a totem with a V-formed sprout. At the woodcut’s top border – and peering out of a branch at the tree trunk’s crux – is a profile of an evil spirit represented by a head. The grassy hair of the goddess fills about half the background and falls to nestle by her left arm. Gauguin uses several stock elements in different attitudes or positions. For example, he used the evil head in the 1892 painting Parau na te Varua ino (Words of the Devil) (fig.10) and this woodcut’s symbolism likewise remains complex. In the woodcut, to Goddess Hina’s right and immediately below the malevolent spirit who materializes in strange and frightening humanoid forms, appear abstracted forms of a coiled snake and other ceremonial visages. Goddess Hina is primitive and statuesque whereas the evil head possesses a sinister aspect with circles that serve as open eyes.

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fig.10. Gauguin, Parau na te Varua ino (Words of the Devil), 1892, oil on canvas, 91.7 × 68.5 cm (36 1/8 × 25 15/16 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

When Gauguin wrote from Tahiti in March 1899 to Belgian Symbolist poet and critic André Fontainas with reflections on the South Seas, he expressed strong feelings of awe, personal vigil, and dream-like vision. Such qualities must have been experienced on his first Tahiti trip for they permeate a work like Tahitian Idol – The Goddess Hina:

“Here near my hut, in utter silence, I dream of violent harmonies in the natural fragrances that exhilarate me. A pleasure heightened by an indefinable sacred awe which I divine towards the immemorial. In bygone days, an odor of joy that I breathe in the present. Animal figures in statuesque rigidity: something inexpressibly old, august, religious in the rhythm of their gesture, in their rare immobility. In dreaming eyes, the cloudy surface of an unfathomable enigma. And here is nightfall – everything is at rest. My eyes close in order to see without understanding the dream in the infinite space that recedes before me, and I have a sense of the doleful march of my hopes.”54

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Paul Gauguin’s hut in Tahiti – Jules Agostini (1859-1930), December 31, 1904. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In a work of approximately 5 x 4 inches―and its small size in no way diminishes its artistic force – Gauguin achieves in Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina a craftsman’s unity of good and evil in nature. Before his first visit to Tahiti Gauguin already had familiarity with this theme of nature’s duality for he uses it in his 1889 painting Self-Portrait (fig. 11) where halo and snake vie within and for creation.

smaller self portrait

fig.11. Gauguin, Self-Portrait, 1889, oil on wood, 79.2 x 51.3 cm (31 3/16 x 20 3/16 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

NOTES:

  1. Brettell., p. 330.
  2. Ibid., p. 330.
  3. Delevoy, Robert L., Symbolists and Symbolism, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, 1982, page 54.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

MORE WORK BY PAUL GAUGUIN in THE FRANCE INTERLUDE:

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PAUL GAUGUIN, Tahitian Woman, 1894?, irregularly shaped; charcoal and pastel, selectively stumped, and worked with brush and water on wove “pasted” paper, glued to secondary support of yellow wove paper mounted on gray millboard. The Brooklyn Museum. A pastel where Gauguin subverted the medium.

young-christian-girl

PAUL GAUGUIN The Young Christian Girl, 15 3/8 x 18 inches, oil on canvas, Clark Institute Art Institute, Massachusetts. Gauguin painted this work in Northern France fusing imagery from his recent experiences in Tahiti. She is shown in a dress similar to those brought by Christian missionaries to the South Sea Islands.

 

 

Part 3 “Tahitian Landscape.” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

 

#2 TAHITIAN LANDSCAPE

Fig. 5. Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Landscape, 1894 – watercolor monotype, with brush and watercolor, on cream wove paper, 8.66 x 9.72 inches (220 x 247 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.

 

By John P. Walsh

As Belgian critic Emile Verhaeren saw him, Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) produces “child art.”47 The artist’s anagram “P.Go.” looms large in the lower left hand corner making it plain that the 46-year-old Gauguin made this print. Gauguin’s use of color and form are significant as they build up the image of five women in a landscape―two foreground figures more fully defined than the three figures merging into the background. It is ambiguous whether it is a channel of water or grass that separates the two foreground women who appear to perform a rite of worship and a trio in conversation or, as Richard Brettell interprets, dancing.48 As the Seine flows through Paris where Gauguin created this print, there exists in Tahitian Landscape (fig. 5) a commentariat on the Right Bank and artisans spilling blood in their offerings on the Left Bank. Modeling of the three women has affinities with Ta Matete of 1892 (fig.6) as Gauguin uses the same flat, static figures that have been traced to Egyptian painting with the ethnological implication that the Polynesians’ origins are in mankind’s oldest civilizations.49

ta matete 1892 Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

Fig. 6. Gauguin, Ta Matete (The Market), 1892, 28.7 x 36.2″ (73 x 92 cm), Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel.

Continual rhythm or “musicality” of bodily contours with intervening empty space gives Tahitian Landscape a Synthetist sensibility to the figures while its overall Symbolist ambiguity is a result of pale color and de-emphasized form. The figure of the woman on her knees to the right is engaged in a ritual bathing as Brettell believes or may be bowing before a vague natural stone construct (Brettel, however, denies any hint of religion). A pool of red flows at, or under, her chest that may represent bathing water as Brettell offers or perhaps a hint of light or shadow or, more intensely, the figure’s blood. Red appears again in one of the three dancing figures. In this landscape Gauguin allows for several possible interpretations.

Under close examination the artist seems to encourage bewilderment by producing a scene of ambiguity and mystery. If Gauguin acted as an ethnologist―as art critic and historian Roger Marx compared him in November 1893 – it would be impossible for the artist to depict an authentic blood sacrifice in Tahiti since, in the 1890s, it was prohibited by French law. The artist then dreams a scene in a Tahitian setting of a woman and her associates offering a savage blood sacrifice to a stone god. This piece asks questions about Gauguin’s attitude for Tahiti and sheds light on some of his deepest desires in Paris. The formulation of the sky, waters, and ground create a Synthetist landscape but it is the Symbolist figures and the mystery surrounding their presence that is the central power of the work. This use of mysterious figures in a landscape is found in Gauguin’s previous  work in Martinique (“the land of the Creole gods”50 he wrote in a letter) and in Brittany (figs. 7 and 8).

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fig. 7. Gauguin, By the Sea, oil on canvas, signed and dated at lower left, P. Gauguin 87, 18 1/8 x 24 in. (46 x 61 cm), private collection, Paris.

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Fig. 8. Gauguin, Be Mysterious, 1890, low relief, polychrome lime tree wood 73 x 95 x 5 cm., Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

In Tahitian Landscape, on the other side of the green, blue, and peach-color chasm heavily outlined on the right and halted by a built-up “shore,” the three dancing women who are barely modeled or detailed appear to be observed by an idol figure. It lies in blue shadow in dense foliage and is nearly invisible. As in Tahitians Fishing (see part 2 of “Savagery in Civilization…” ) it is by way of foliage, boulders, and rounded forms of the landscape that there emerges a similarity with the jigsaw puzzle-like lagoon in that same year’s Day of the GodsHowever, the forms in Tahitian Landscape are flatter and less organic-looking.  As popular graphic art methods could not produce the deliberately pale character of the surface Brettell proposes that this image was made as a transfer or counterproof on wetted paper from a now lost watercolor matrix.51

NOTES:

  1. Thomson, Gauguin, p. 130.
  2. Brettell, p. 359.
  3. Thomson, Gauguin, p. 152.
  4.  Brettell, p. 80;  “denies any hint of religion” and “bathing water”- Brettell, p. 359. Brettell’s denial here of Tahitian religion does not preclude his proposing that the bowing figure may be an adaptation of the naked and penitent Magdalen at the foot of the cross, which is part of Catholic tradition.
  5. Ibid., p. 359.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Part 2 “Tahitians Fishing.” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

By John P. Walsh

To look at a selection of four prints produced by Paul Gauguin in Paris between his two long trips to Tahiti not only elucidates his artistic ideas but benefits by this brief commentary on his methods and techniques he used to make them. The consummate craftsman – even Gauguin’s modern art opponents largely conceded this point – his traced monotypes (also called watercolor transfer drawings or printed drawings) employed a simple but creatively unique process to offset his watercolor or gouache designs onto paper.

The first step in Gauguin’s process was to place slightly damp paper over his hand-drawn design and with the pressure he exerted from the back of an ordinary spoon the moisture in the paper and the water-based medium worked to transfer the reverse image of the design onto the paper. Gauguin could then reprint his design so that each would be variable images, imparting a pale, soft value to the work – outcomes the artist sought for these Tahitian pieces.

By 1898, back in Tahiti, Gauguin created a new print medium which was essentially a reversal of early Renaissance silverpoint. His new technique required Gauguin to apply a coat of ink to one sheet of paper, place a second sheet over it, and draw on the top sheet with pencil or crayon. The pressure of the drawing instrument transferred the ink from the first sheet of paper onto the back or verso side of the top sheet. Gauguin greatly admired his technical discovery and considered it an expression of “childlike simplicity.”

#1 TAHITIANS FISHING

Fig.1 . Tahitians Fishing, 1893/5 – watercolor and black ink, over pen and brown ink, on vellum laid down on brown wove paper, 9.84 x 12.48 inches (250 x 317 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.

In this small work (fig. 1) the figures are flat, with little modeling or detail. The impact created is one of a dream. Gauguin presents a primitive world that is half-naked and childlike. In its Synthetist elements, it is reminiscent of a major painting he completed the year before, Fatata te Miti (By the Sea) (fig.2) It shares its flat colors, abstract shapes, and unbroken curves uniting to make an integrated decorative pattern. Yet Tahitians Fishing is a sketch. It is divided into distinct zones like Day of the Gods (Mahana No Atua) (fig.3) created by Gauguin in the same years. The grassy foreground and sea/vegetation/sandy shore create two horizontal zones. These are bisected by a dominant vertical―a tree―that divides the piece into informal quadrants. The tree, a powerful element, is a void – a space of black ink – while its branches and roots are delineated with the same facile modeling as the rest of the composition. The pair of main roots and twelve or so ancillary roots sit ambiguously atop the grassy foreground with its childlike delineation of blades and sinks into sandy soil. The tree surrounds a naked squatting female, her bare breasts exposed. Is she hiding herself from a second woman working with a net in the area of sand and sea? This second worker is aided by three others who are perhaps completely nude figures that stand waist deep in water. Two are male but the third figure’s sex is uncertain as s/he is turned so the viewer sees only a naked back.  There is very little personality to the figures. They are, instead, composition elements like cartoons.

paul-gauguin-fatata-te-miti-by-the-sea-1892

Fig. 2. Gauguin, Fatata te Miti (By the Sea), 1892, oil on canvas, 67.9 x 91.5 cm (26 3/4 x 36 in.), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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Fig.3. Gauguin, Day of the Gods (Mahana No Atua), 1894, oil on canvas, 26 7/8 x 36 in. (68.3 x 91.5 cm), The Art Institute of Chicago.

In the time Gauguin was making Tahitians Fishing, he was working on the text and suite of ten wood block prints for his book Noa Noa. Tahitians Fishing also involves text and the visual image. Gauguin places a verse by living French Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) into a visual work about Tahiti. This artistic admixture could be part of Gauguin’s reaction to one of Symbolist art’s major indictment by naturalist modern art critics – that it is preoccupied with ideas and should be subsumed exclusively into the domain of literature.41 Gauguin’s literary career began in the midst of this critical argument that predated his first departure to Tahiti and maintained itself at his return. From an artist who confronted disparate parts to create something new, Tahitians Fishing is a hybrid piece of Symbolist literary and visual elements using Gauguin’s obsession with Tahiti as its unifying theme. It indicates that the artist was reflecting on his Tahitian art, if not searching for more. Many Paris critics believed his art confused East and West. Gauguin gives validity to that belief by putting a poem at the top of the sheet in its own artistic “zone” and not straying into the visual image itself or making letters into art. While his pillaging from the Western world could set Gauguin’s critics alight, sympathizers saw his juxtapositions as a productive and creative artistic strategy.42 Verlaine’s nature poem – “Qu’as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà/Pleurant sans cesse./Dis, qu’as tu fait, toi que voilà/De ta jeunesse?”43 – provides another facet to Gauguin’s imposition of the Edenic dimension of good and evil onto the image.

Tahitians Fishing tested Gauguin’s powers to illustrate text which he was working on for Noa Noa, a phrase that means “perfume.” The Man with the Ax (fig.4), a print from this Paris period (1892/94)  is a complex of thinned gouache and pen and black ink over pen and brown ink on dark tan wove paper and laid down on cream Japanese paper. At approximately 12 x 9 inches it is – by virtue of its tripartite landscape, stooping figure and monumental and vertical figure enclosed in Cloisonnist dark contour – a retrospective of work done in Tahiti between 1891 and 1893.

man with ax-b

Fig. 4. Gauguin, Man with an Ax, 1892/94, thinned gouache with pen and black ink, over pen and brown ink on cream wove paper (discolored to tan), laid down on cream Japanese paper, 317 x 228 mm, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Tahitians Fishing is new as it reflects Tahiti and adds a contemporary French Symbolist text. It contains similarities in composition, theme, and figures to the forward-looking painting Day of the Gods. Both share the image of a “Savage Eve” figure which obsessed Gauguin throughout 1893 to 189544 and both have a dominant central vertical―a tree in Tahitians Fishing and an idol in Day of the Gods.  Each has distinct horizontal zones and ground-and-water block-like forms. Even the amoeba-shaped waters in Day of the Gods are reflected in the steeply pitched water-as-sky in Tahitians Fishing. Maurice Denis identified Gauguin by his bright, unnatural colors45, but this exercise piece is more than that. It explores compositional forms and themes of his Tahitian and Synthetist works and includes avant-gardist French Symbolist verse. Gauguin’s work in these pieces is not always simply, as Julien Leclerq wrote in December 1894, “(the) transposing into another medium motifs from his Tahitian works.”46 Gauguin may have used this particular Verlaine poem if he was anywhere outside Paris, but it seems less likely. He continued to experiment with mixing text and visual image, a courageous act in the face of conservative critics who, with artists Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne, castigated Gauguin for the repetitive elaboration and recombination of pictorial ideas. On the recto side of this work no signature of any sort is detectable.

NOTES:

  1. Marlais, p.99.
  2. Salvesen, p. 51.
  3. “What have you done – you who are Forever crying? Speak! What have you done – you who are so young?” – my translation.
  4. Brettell, p. 332.
  5. Crepaldi, Gabriele, trans. Sylvia Tombesi-Walton, Gauguin, Dorling Kindersley, London, 1998, p. 97.
  6. quoted in Barbara Stern Shapiro, “Shapes and Harmonies of Another World,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, p.131.

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