Tag Archives: Art – Symbolism

Paintings and Graphic Art of EDVARD MUNCH (1863-1944), Norway’s Symbolist Artist who made “The Scream” and First Expressed the Individual’s Anguish in Modern Society.

FEATURE image: Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895, pastel on cardboard, private collection.

By John P. Walsh


Edvard Munch, Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 1886.

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Symbolist and Expressionist artist from Norway.

In the 1890s, anti-naturalism mainly took the form of Symbolism – that is, the fascination with many types of literature and the inclination to draw upon these sources for inspiration in dreams and visions. This movement informed the art of Edvard Munch throughout that decade and into the twentieth century. Inspiration from literature, however, was not illustration. By the 1890s the younger generation of modern artists saw that by giving the artist an example of constructing an irrational logic, the artist’s dream, or more specific to Munch, psychology, had been freed not only from the restrictions of nature in terms of form, line, color and subject but also its potentially literary or ideological sources. It manifests as a style of drawing that the imagination has liberated from the concern of natural details in order that it might freely serve only as the representation of conceived things.

For Edvard Munch, this resulted in the creation of several fantastic scenarios which are designed and constructed as the artist deems them necessary to be. The distinction between Impressionism and Symbolism is the difference emanating from the tradition of naturalism and the expression of ideas by means of its symbol that is searching beyond naturalism.


Edvard Munch, The Scream, crayon, 1893.

Edvard Munch is a precursor and practitioner of Expressionism. Although the major portion of Munch’s artwork lies outside this classification, his expressionist paintings are some of his best-known works.

The Scream is Munch’s most famous work, and is widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. It is one of modern art’s most iconic paintings along with Whistler’s mother (Arrangement in Grey and Black, Number One, D’Orsay), Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (Louvre), and Grant Wood’s American Gothic (Chicago).

Expressionism was a movement that was a combination of Symbolism, ideals of the human spirit, often confined in solitude, and poetical lyricism laced with emotion.1

1870’s, 1880’s KRISTIANIA (OSLO): MUNCH’S FIRST ARTWORK AND “THE SEEDS OF MADNESS”

In an artistic career that spanned from the early 1880s until his death in 1944 at 80 years old, Edvard Munch experimented within painting, graphic art, drawing, sculpture, photography and film.

Growing up in Kristiania (today’s Oslo) Munch decided at 17 years old that he was going to be a painter. Munch’s family encouraged his artistic pursuits so that in 1880 Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania where he expanded his drawing repertoire to include live models and en pleine aire (out of doors).

Often ill as a child, Munch believed that in his experiences growing up, “…I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.”

In his career, Munch painted mania in several pictures, including Melancholy (1901). It depicted his younger sister Laura who suffered from schizophrenia, and was hospitalized regularly for what was diagnosed as “hysteria” and “melancholia.”2


Edvard Munch, Melancholy, Laura, 1901.

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait, 1882, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Interior Pilestredet, oil on canvas, 1881, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Still Life with Jar, Apple, Walnut and Coconut, 1881, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, From Saxegårdsgate, c. 1882, oil on canvas, Lillehammer Art Museum.

Edvard Munch, Laura, both 1882, oil on paper (top) and oil on cardboard (below), Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Andreas Studying Anatomy, 1883, Oil on Cardboard, Munch Museum, Oslo.

SOUL PAINTING: MUNCH’S FIRST ARTISTIC BREAKTHROUGH

Between 1884 and 1889 young Munch made a range of drawing and paintings that was extensive and meaningful. His portfolio included landscapes, domestic environments, portraits, self-portrait, still life, and fictional motifs. Munch’s drawings included industrial sites along the Akerselva River, and promenading denizens and local farmers at work.

In Munch’s early work there is a hint of his wrestling with eros and the nature of woman that became a lifelong obsession.

In Kristiania Munch began to live a bohemian life under the influence of anti-establishment writer Hans Jaeger (1854-1910). Jaeger urged Munch to paint his own emotional and psychological state called “soul painting.”

Munch’s first “soul painting” was The Sick Child (1886). The artist produced five versions over decades. Munch’s freedom of treatment and color – also found in the painting Tête-à-Tête in 1885 – is largely owed to Impressionism. In 1886, Munch participated in the Artists’ Autumn Exhibition in Kristiania and exhibited The Sick Child. It met with very negative reaction. The motif of the sick was popular but Munch’s hasty Impressionistic treatment was seen as insensitive. It was the first breakthrough for Munch’s art.


Edvard Munch, Tête-à-tête, oil on canvas, 1885, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child (original version), 1885-86, National Gallery, Oslo. Other versions are in the Konstmuseet Gothenberg (1896), Tate London (1907), Thiel Gallery (1907) and Munch Museum (1925).

Munch later painted Hans Jaeger’s portrait in Oslo in 1889 after Jaeger lost his job and had to flee Norway one step ahead of the law. This was after Jaeger published a novel about local Bohemian life that the authorities considered inflammatory. Young Munch began to explore in his art personal situations, emotions, and states of mind. He wrote in his “soul” diary: ” I attempt In my art to explain life and its meaning to myself.”3


Edvard Munch, Hans Jæger, 1889, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Night on the Beach, 1889, Bergen Art Museum. Known also as Inger on the Beach, it was painted in the summer of 1889 at Åsgårdstrand. The sitter is Munch’s youngest sister Inger. The artwork created a storm of confusion and controversy. Its simplified forms, thick outlines, contrasting colors and shades, and subtle emotional content signaled the direction of Munch’s developing style.

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait, c. 1888, Munch Museum, Oslo.

PARIS AND ÅSGÅRDSTRAND IN 1885: MUNCH ENCOUNTERS OLD MASTERS, MODERNIST ÉDOUARD MANET—AND HAS HIS FIRST LOVE AFFAIR

With friends, Munch rented a studio in Kristiania. His mentor, established artist Christian Krohg (1852-1925), encouraged Munch to conform to his own artistic vision.

In 1885, 22-year-old Munch traveled to Paris for the first time to explore the world’s art capital. During his three-week stay in Paris Munch visited the Louvre and the Salon and was particularly impressed by French Modernist painter, Édouard Manet (1832-1883). Munch began to incorporate those ideas and techniques of French Modernism into his artistic vision. In the same year Munch produced his full-length Portrait of the Painter Jensen -Hjell to the derision of critics in Kristiania. The penchant for Manet’s artwork continued for Munch into the new century with a full-length portrait called The Frenchman (Monsieur Archimard) in 1901.

In summer of 1885 Munch had his first love affair which affected him deeply. It occurred in the coastal resort town of Åsgårdstrand when Munch met Milly Thaulow (1860-1937), a fashion model and singer.

Milly had been married since 1881 when she met Munch and they had a passionate affair. The short, secret relationship filled Munch with mixed feelings of love and shame. Its inevitable ending produced melancholy that affected Munch’s artmaking.

Milly Thaulow remained active in the arts, translating Maurice Maeterlinck’s French play, Pelléas et Mélisande, into Norwegian in 1906. She went on to divorce her husband in 1891 and remarry that same year. Her second marriage ended in divorce. In the end, Munch justified his experience with Milly as part of radical bohemian artist culture which Hans Jaeger preached where love is free and self-expression is paramount.


Edvard Munch, Portrait of the Painter Jensen -Hjell, 1885, National Gallery, Oslo.

PARIS IN 1889-91: MUNCH’S MODERNIST VISION AND TECHNIQUE

In 1889 Munch rented exhibition space in Kristiania to display 110 of his artworks. His entrepreneurship resulted in receiving state grant funds that led to a second, yet back and forth, stay to Paris whose time amounted overall to about two years.

In Paris, Munch took drawing lessons, explored art galleries, and networked with expatriate artists, especially at the venerable 17th-century Café de la Régence near the Palais-Royal.

In his study, Munch became inspired by the rhythmical and decorative art of Paul Gauguin (1847-1903), several of the Nabis, Japonisme, and the Symbolist drawing of Odilon Redon (1840-1916).

Though Munch rejected Realism in art, he embraced Impressionism, particularly the technique of Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Thomas Couture (1815-1879). Munch was particularly impressed by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and their unnatural use of color to express sensory perception and emotion. In this milieu Munch painted Rue Lafayette (1891).

The 26-year-old Munch had just arrived into Paris when his father died, an event which devastated the artist. Running low on money, Munch left the city and, with Danish poet Goldstein, rented a small apartment in the suburb of St. Cloud.

Munch’s experiences of relative poverty and the death of a loved one offered new insights and impetus for his art in terms of seeking to understand and express the memory of his human existence.

He painted Night In St. Cloud (1890) and Evening on the Karl Johan (1889) in this time period. Munch also conceived the idea of The Frieze of Life, a series of paintings exploring human existence from a range of pathos, terror, desire, dread, nightmare, and anxiety, to other fascinations, so to include The Dance of Life, The Scream, The Vampire, Madonna, and Death and the Maiden.

In 1891 Munch had exhibitions in Kristiania, Berlin, and Munich. He returned to Paris several times in the next decade for short term visits as in 1899 which included a trip to Italy.4


Edvard Munch, Night In St. Cloud, 1890, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Evening on the Karl Johan, 1889, oil, Bergen Art Museum.

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the Window, 1891, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Evening Melancholy, 1891, oil, crayon, pencil on canvas, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Rue Lafayette, 1891, oil on canvas, National Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Rue de Rivoli, 1891, oil on canvas, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Edvard Munch, Inger in a White Blouse, 1891, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Pleine-aire, 1891, oil on canvas, 60 x 120 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

BERLIN 1892-1895: MUNCH’S ARTISTIC POWER REACH MATURITY

In 1892, Munch’s pictures were again exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition in Oslo (it was his final time)–and led to the 29-year-old artist being invited to exhibit at the Verein der Berliner Künstler (Association of Berlin Artists) in Germany in November 1892 for a one-man exhibition.

Munch’s exhibition of Melancholy (1891) in Oslo was called Norway’s “first Symbolist painting.” His exhibition of 55 pictures in Berlin proved another breakthrough for Munch’s reputation in Europe: it made him infamous. The critical reaction to his artwork was divided. Critics described Munch’s art as “repugnant, ugly and mean.” As it shocked the Berlin public, German artists Max Liebermann (1847-1935) and Ludwig von Hofmann (1861-1945) setting up a dissident “Group of XI” that led to the establishment of the Berlin Secession later on May 2, 1898.

The government of Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) set the mood for the public reaction in that art which “presumes to overstep the limits and rules” which Wilhelm had set, “is no longer art.” In the eyes of German society, Munch’s artwork “misused the word ‘freedom’ and (with) a total loss of restraint and excess of self-esteem.”

Later, by around 1910, that same Emperor in his constant pursuit of cultural influence, mostly supported the Berlin Secession. Yet the Secession’s public and financial success which Wilhelm II eventually helped to build, came at the price of a benevolent autocrat’s constant interference, particularly in the modern art group’s jury process.

Munch stayed in Berlin until 1895. In the Berlin exhibitions of 1893 and 1895 Munch presented a sequence of pictures he called Man’s Life, From the Modern Life of the Soul and, simply, Love. These all contained artwork that contributed to The Frieze which Munch intended to be a symbolic expression of reality and not a mere symbol of or for reality.

Munch’s bohemian circle in Berlin included editors of the magazine Pan, the German arts publication analogous to France’s La Revue Blanche. It also included Swedish avant-garde writer, August Strindberg (1849-1912) who would soon provide Munch with influential introductions to the Berlin and Paris art worlds. In 1890 Strindberg broke with naturalism and was in his own artistic and personal crisis as he sought new art forms within an emerging Symbolism. Munch met German art critic Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935) and socialized with Polish decadent naturalist and Symbolist novelist, dramatist, and poet Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868-1927) along with Przybyszewski’s paramour and later short-term wife, Dagny Juel (1867-1901). Munch painted both of these friends’ portraits.

Munch’s Berlin friends understood what Munch was doing with symbolism though the German critics did not. Przybyszewski wrote: “The old kind of art and psychology was an art and psychology of the conscious personality, whereas the new art is the art of the individual. Men dream and their dreams open up vistas of a new world to them.”

In addition to exhibiting in Berlin in both 1893 and 1894, Munch exhibited in Copenhagen, Dresden and Munich in 1893 and in Stockholm in 1894.

Working on the Frieze of Life, Munch created painting with turbulent, ambiguous and morose themes with titles such as Despair (1892), The Girl and Death (1893), Stormy Night (1893), The Voice (1893), Anxiety (1894), The Three Stages of Woman (1894), Ashes (1894), Death Struggle (1895), and Jealousy (1895). Aspects of Symbolism extended to romantic aspects of nature in paintings such as Coastal Mysticism (1892), Evening (Melancholy) (1893), Moonlight (1893), Starlit Night (1893), Sunrise at Åsgårdstrand (1893) and The Evening Star (1894). He painted many portraits in this period, in addition to those in his Berlin Bohemian circle, including Sister Inger (1892). Other iconic, overtly anecdotal Munch paintings were created such as Self Portrait in Hell (1895), Self Portrait under a female mask (1892), and Self portrait with Burning Cigarette (1895).

Other paintings, including casino scenes, showed Munch’s simplification of form and detail. The artist favored shallow pictorial space and a minimal backdrop for his foreground figures. Poses, forms, colors, lines and subjects were carefully constructed images that expressed psychological and emotional states, and often appear monumental as if they were playing a role on the stage of life.5


Edvard Munch, Melancholy, 1893, oil, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Melancholy (The Yellow Boat), 1891, oil, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the window, 1892, oil, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Kiss, 1892, oil, Private Collection.

Edvard Munch, The Girl by the Window, 1893, oil, Art Institute of Chicago.

Edvard Munch, Separation, 1893-94, Gouache, watercolor and crayon on paper, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Parting, 1894, oil on canvas, 67 x 128 cm, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Three Stages of Women (Sphinx), c. 1894, Bergan. Munch painted woman as dreaming, hungry for life, and as a nun.

Edvard Munch, Puberty, 1894–1895, oil on canvas, 151.5 x 110 cm, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Anxiety, 1894, Munch Museum. Art critics see the painting as closely related to The Scream (1893). The faces show despair and the colors impress a depressed state showing emotions of heartbreak and sorrow.

Edvard Munch, Despair, 1893, oil on canvas, Munch Museum.
Edvard Munch, Inger in Black and Violet, 1892, oil on canvas, National Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Storm, oil on canvas, 1893, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Edvard Munch, Summer Night’s Dream The Voice, 1893, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Edvard Munch, Coastal Mysticism, 1892.
Edvard Munch, Sketch of the Model Posing, 1893, pastel on cardboard, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Edvard Munch, The Hands, 1893, oil on canvas, 91 x 77 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, 1892, oil, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait Under the Mask of the Woman, 1893, oil, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait with Burning Cigarette, 1895, oil,  Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait in Hell, c. 1895, oil on canvas, 82 x 60 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Stanislaw Przybyszewski,1895, pastel, 62x55cm, Munch Museum.
Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, oil, tempera, pastel on cardboard, National Museum, Oslo.

PARIS IN 1895 TO 1897: MUNCH ADOPTS “IDEA” PAINTING. THE SCREAM

Until 1870, young artists from Norway went to Dűsseldorf to study and pursue an art career though sometimes to Berlin, Paris, Munich and Karlesruhe. By 1880, Paris was the center of the art world and Munch returned to Paris in 1895, 1896, and 1897 for extended visits (he also visited Nice in 1897).

Thadée Nathanson’s La Revue Blanche published Munch’s lithograph The Scream in December 1895. The Scream exists in four versions: two pastels (1893 and 1895) and two paintings (1893 and 1910). There are several lithographs of The Scream from 1895 and later.

With The Scream, Munch met his stated goal in his diary of his art expressing “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self.” Philippe Jullian argues that it had been the combination of influences of Strindberg, Redon, and Gauguin that explained Munch’s conversion from Naturalism and Impressionism to “Idea” painting expressed in Symbolism. Munch was the first to express the individual’s anguish in modern society and facing death. He was an inventor of the ectoplasm line (“ectoplasm” is a spiritualism term first used in 1894). Munch’s figures, including The Scream, emerges from pastel, oil, or ink like an apparition, yet to be identified with the “souls” of ordinary persons.

Anxiety, jealousy, loneliness; Munch illustrates people who pictorially express Symbolism’s darkest visions and themes.


Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895. Ink.

In Paris Munch exhibitions were organized at the Salon des Indépendents and Siegfried Bing’s Salon de L‘Art Nouveau. Young avant-garde art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) included Munch in his first Album des Peintres Graveurs. Munch was commissioned by the Cent Bibliophiles to illustrate Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. Like young Nabis Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Munch designed programs for Symbolist theatre (Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre). He did portraits of Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) and August Strindberg. Munch created some of his most iconic motifs, including The Scream (pastel version), Vampire (a woman seductive and destructive), Puberty (an anxious girl seated naked on a bed), and Madonna (a synthesis of the mystical and erotic).

MUNCH MASTERS MODERN EXPERIMENTAL PRINTMAKING

In Berlin in 1894 Munch had produced his first dry point etchings. In Paris in 1896, following the explosion of color printing in the 1890’s, Munch produced his first color lithographs and woodcuts (Vampire was his first woodcut). Influenced by Gauguin and Max Klinger (1857-1920), printmaking allowed Munch to be highly experimental in the creation of an image. Particular to Munch as an artist, the subject of the artwork determined which of the various styles to be deployed. At his death Munch retained over 15,000 prints in his Oslo studios. During his lifetime, inspired importantly by his work in mid-1890’s Paris, Munch became a master of all graphic techniques, such as color, volume, and line. Munch’s production of an immense portfolio of graphic art sought to create images which are subordinated to the experiences of the self’s impulses and drives.

Munch’s attempts to market his new artwork in Paris as he did in Berlin to acceptance and fame resulted in relative failure in the world’s art capital. His parting milestone in Paris in this period was in the 1897 Salon des Artistes Indépendants where Munch displayed in the main hall his ever-augmenting Frieze of Life. The cycle was characterized by continuous reworkings as new paintings; versions that replaced paintings which had sold; and, new compositions added to the series.

In terms of public acclaim, the effort appeared for naught. French resistance to Munch’s “repugnant, ugly and mean” art endured. French critics decried Munch’s art as “violent and brutal” and, when they weren’t chastising him, they ignored him—and this attitude lasted deep into the 20th century. However, another exhibition in Munch’s native Oslo of 85 paintings was well received.6

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895, pastel on cardboard, private collection.

Edvard Munch, The Kiss, 1895, Dry-point and aquatint, 34.8 x 28 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Kiss, woodcut, n.d., 44.7 x 44.7. cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.


Edvard Munch, Jealousy, 1896, Lithograph, 46.5 x 56.5 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.


Edvard Munch, Death and the Maiden, 1894, Dry-point, 30.2 x 22 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.  


Edvard Munch, Melancholy (Evening),1896, woodcut, 37.6 x 45.5.  cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Attraction, 1896, Lithograph, 47.2 x 35.5 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.


Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1896, Lithograph, 42.1 x 56.5 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.



Edvard Munch, Evening, Melancholy I, woodcut, 1896.


Edvard Munch, Stéphane Mallarmé, 1896, lithograph.


Edvard Munch, August Strindberg, 1896, lithograph.


Edvard Munch, Self-portrait, 1895, Lithograph, 45.5×31.7 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Munch was 31 years when he produced this self-portrait. It is a memento mori – a reminder of death. The bones at the bottom of the image are paired with the artist’s name and the date of the lithograph’s creation at the top. The floating head in a sea of darkness was a familiar motif in art in the 1890’s expressing in part the cosmic and ontological realities of humanity.

Edvard Munch, Lady From the Sea (detail), 1896, oil on canvas. 100 cm × 320 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Voice Summer Night, 1896, 90 cm × 119 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo

Edvard Munch, Paris Boulevard, 1896, oil on canvas, 96.5 x 130 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

MUNCH’S AMBIVALENCE IN LOVE AND OBSESSION WITH DEATH

In 1898 Munch met Tulla (Mathilde Larsen) and they became lovers. Munch continued a productive period of art-making as he continually refused to marry Tulla. Munch portrayed many artworks displaying his view of life and death and the destructive force of love where both man and woman suffer– Madonna (1893), Salome, The Maiden and the Heart (1896), Under the Yoke (1896), Cruelty, The Woman and the Urn (1896), and, later, his Alpha and Omega lithograph series (1909). Munch remained fascinated by women as expressed in The Kiss (1892), The Three Stages of Women (1894), and The Dance of Life (1900).

One explanation of the ambivalent relationship of Munch the artist and Woman as artistic subject may be understood through the Symbolist art aesthetic. Symbolism connoted the idea of a desirable union of the human being with a philosophic ideal. In its view, Woman, though called real is a false appearance, and thereby not ideal. Further, Woman acts mainly as a temptress, the then-popular notion of a femme fatale, as she reveals man’s animal nature which obscures and prevents the desirable union to the ideal. Woman must be avoided and, if engaged by man, done so with peril.

Munch was an idealist before he became a Symbolist, and, as Christian Krohg ominously wrote about him in 1892: “dares to subordinate Nature, his model, to the mood.“

In 1899 Munch exhibited at the Venice Biennale and in Dresden. The Berlin Secession held its first exhibition in 1899 on its own premises but did not invite Edvard Munch. Though the Berlin group invited no foreigners that year, Munch’s art continued to be viewed by status quo cognoscenti as “undesirable.” Yet, at the same time, Munch’s art was beginning to influence young Expressionist artists in Germany. In artworks such as The Voice and Summer’s Night, Munch appealed to these younger avant-garde artists for his illustrating the upsurge and resonance of raw emotion.


Edvard Munch, The Inheritance, 1897-99, oil on canvas, 141 x 121 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Two people, 1899, oil on canvas, 175 x 143 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo


Edvard Munch, Amor and Psyche, 1907, oil on canvas, 118 x 99 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Marat’s death, 1907, oil on canvas, 151 x148 cm, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, The Murderess, 1906, Munch museum.


Edvard Munch, Death of Marat I, 1907, 150 x 199 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the Window, 1897, oil on canvas, 99 x 80.5 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Death and the Maiden, 1893, oil on canvas, 128 x 86 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.
Edvard Munch, Man and Woman, 1898, oil on canvas, Bergen.

Edvard Munch, Stanislaw Przybyszewski (The Vampire), Oil and/or tempera on unprimed cardboard, 1893.
Edvard Munch, Weeping Nude, 1913–1914, 110 cm × 135 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

MUNCH IN THE NEW CENTURY; THE FRIEZE OF LIFE

Little is known about Munch’s personal relationships with individual women that would greatly enlighten the artist’s overall character and how these relationships’ impacted his artwork in his adult years. Fantastic stories are told. How, in his room at Åsgårdstrand with an unknown woman (likely Tulla), did a gunshot go off in Fall 1902 from a revolver that injured Munch’s hand? Munch successfully chased Tulla out of his life, though after she married another man, the artist felt betrayed by Love and brooded over it. Even as Munch had numerous short-lived affairs with beautiful women who wanted to marry him, he fled them all and verbally expressed no known regrets. Throughout his life, Edvard Munch never married.

Munch started the year 1900 in Gudbrandsdalen and moved on to Berlin. In 1901 he painted in Nordstrand and in 1902 returned to Berlin. Along with artwork of Édouard Manet, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), and Claude Monet, Munch exhibited at the Berlin Secession in 1902. He had continually worked at the Frieze of Life, the group of images representing human existence, a subject that fascinated the artist. He exhibited 22 paintings from the completed Frieze at that year’s Berlin Secession. Though the Berlin critics began to appreciate Munch’s art, the public continued to view him as warped and weird. In 1902 he met ophthalmologist Dr. Max Linde (1862-1940), an art collector and author of a Munch study while Hamburg judge and art collector Gustav Schiefler (1857-1935) started a catalogue of Munch’s voluminous graphic art that year.


Edvard Munch, Self Portrait Against a Green Background and Caricature Portrait of Tulla Larsen, 1905.

Edvard Munch, Ashes, 1893,

Edvard Munch, The Dance of Life, 1899-1900.

Edvard Munch, Madonna, 1894, Munch Museum, Oslo.
Edvard Munch, Gustav Schiefler, 1906/06, Ketterer Kunst, Munich. A judge and avid print collector, Gustav Schiefler compiled a catalog on the prints of Edvard Munch as well as Emile Nolde (18967-1956), Max Liebermann, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938).

In 1903 Munch visited Dr. Max Linde in Lübeck and painted a frieze for his house though Dr. Linde ended up rejecting Munch’s work. Munch exhibited in Berlin at Paul Cassirer modern art gallery.

EVA MUDOCCI’S PREGNANCY AND MUNCH’S NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

In 1903 Munch met British violinist Eva Mudocci (1872-1953) in Paris where Munch had an exhibition. Fully aware of his commitment only to art, Eva Mudocci reportedly became Munch’s mistress and Munch soon immortalized her in The Woman with the Brooch.

In this period, Munch received several commissions for portraits and prints. In 1904 the German rights to his graphic art and paintings was sold to two prominent galleries. Munch exhibited in Vienna and Paris and became a member of the Berlin Secession. In 1905 Munch exhibited 75 paintings in Prague at the Manés Gallery and in 1906 was invited to exhibit with the Fauves in Paris. In Berlin, Munch painted stage sets for Henrik Ibsen plays (Ghosts and Hedda Gabler) at the Max Reinhardt Theatre. A frieze that was commissioned for the Reinhardt Theatre was sold by its director before the frieze was unveiled to the public.

In 1907 Munch summered in Warnemünde as he turned his attention to human figures and situations. He exhibited with Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne at Cassirer Gallery, the purchaser of the German rights to Munch’s graphic art. In November 1907 Eva Mudocci went on a concert tour in Norway for three weeks where She and Munch spent time together in Åsgårdstrand and Oslo. In early 1908 Eva Mudocci was pregnant and gave birth to twins in Denmark at the end of the year. Friends insisted that Munch must have been the father but Mudocci never said who the father was.

Almost simultaneous with Mudocci’s pregnancy, 45-year-old Edvard Munch had a nervous breakdown. In December 1908 he checked himself into a clinic in Copenhagen for several month’s treatment for alcoholism and exhaustion. Munch later wrote: “My condition was verging on madness—it was touch and go.”

In 1909, Mudocci and Munch parted ways though they stayed in touch for the next 18 years, until 1927. At the clinic, Munch painted portraits of his doctor (Dr. Daniel Jacobsen, 1909) and a nurse as well as close friends and a self-portrait using short, thick, and forceful brushstrokes—it was a watershed moment in Munch’s life and art.7

Edvard Munch, The Brooch, 1903, lithograph, 60×46 cm.

Edvard Munch, Salome, 1903, lithograph.

Edvard Munch, Fertility, 1898, woodcut, 42 x 51.7 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Women on the Beach, 1898, woodcut, 45.5 x 50.8 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Red and White, 1899–1900, 93 cm × 129 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.


Edvard Munch, Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1906, Thiel Gallery, Stockholm.

Edvard Munch, Red Virginia Creeper, 1900, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm.

Edvard Munch, Young People on the Beach, 1902, oil on canvas, 90 x 174 cm.

Edvard Munch, On the beach, 1905, oil on canvas, 81x 121 cm.

Edvard Munch, Bathing Boys, c. 1904, oil on canvas, 194 x 294 cm.


Edvard Munch, Shore with Red House, 1904, oil on canvas, 69 × 109 cm, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Train Smoke,1900, 84 cm × 109  cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.
Edvard Munch, At The Sign of the Sweet Girl, 1907, oil on canvas, 85 x 130 cm.

Edvard Munch, Nude by the bed, c. 1907, oil on canvas, 120×121 cm


Edvard Munch, Nude by the bed, c.1907, oil on canvas 120×121 cm

Edvard Munch, Four Girls Åsgårdstrand, 1905, oil on canvas, 87x111cm


Edvard Munch, Avenue in the snow, 1906, oil on canvas, 80 x100 cm,

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with Brushes, 1904, 197×91 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, 1906, 110 cm × 120, The Munch Museum, Oslo.
Edvard Munch, Jealousy, 1907, oil on canvas, 75 x 98 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Deathbed, 1900, oil on canvas, 100 x 110 cm.

Edvard Munch, Village Street, 1905, oil on canvas, 100×100 cm.

Edvard Munch, Prayer, 1902, woodcut, 45.8 x32.5 cm.

Edvard Munch, Dr. Daniel Jacobson, 1909, oil on canvas, 204 x 112 cm.

Edvard Munch, Nurse, 1909, dry point, 20.5×15.2  cm.

NORWAY 1909: MUNCH COMES HOME

Following his recuperation at the clinic, Munch was sober for the first time in years. In 1907 and 1908 he created Bathing Men, a scene of cleansing by immersion reminiscent of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). Suddenly the totality of Munch’s art of the 1890’s and early 1900’s, where he explored his dark and tormented feelings, thoughts, and experiences, became passé for the artist. With the same vigorous brushwork and unnatural, expressionistic colors, Munch turned to painting everyday subjects.

Renting a house in Kragerø, a fishing village in Norway, Munch permanently settled in his homeland. In 1912 he exhibited in Cologne at the Sonderbund exhibition where he was ranked with Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cézanne. That year Munch had his first American exhibition In New York City. In 1913, the 50-year-old artist traveled extensively, had tributes paid to him, and rented larger quarters at Jeløya.

Munch turned to landscapes and large-scale art projects as he continued the murals for Oslo University which were, after lengthy controversy, finally accepted in 1914. Already a Knight of the Royal Order of St. Olaf since 1909, the Oslo National Gallery began buying some of Munch’s most important works – The Day After, Ashes, Puberty, Two Girls at the Verandah, and The Frenchman. The State museum received gifts from collectors as well. Olaf Schou (1861-1925) gave them Madonna, The Sick Child, Mother and Daughter, Girls on the Bridge and, later, The Scream, Death in the Sick Chamber, The Dance of Life, Girl at her Toilet, Betsy, Moonlight in Nice, and others.

Meanwhile, Munch decided to turn for inspiration to some of the outward obsessions of a new 20th century: its advancing technologies, mass media, high-speed transportation and urban life. 8

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910, oil, Munch Museum, Oslo.
Edvard Munch, Self Portrait Bergen, 1916, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm.

Edvard Munch, Bathing Men, 1907–1908, oil on canvas, 206 x 227.5 cm, Atheneum, Helsinki.

Edvard Munch, The Day After, 1894/5, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Moonlight in Nice, 1895, oil, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Death in the Sickroom, 1893, pastel on canvas, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Girls on the Bridge,1899-1901, National Gallery, Oslo.
 
Edvard Munch, Mother and Daughter, 1897, Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid.
Edvard Munch, Crouching Nude, 1919, oil on canvas, Munch Museum.
Edvard Munch, Artist and his Model, 1919-1921, Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid.

GLOBAL FAME, LAST EXHIBITIONS, OLD AGE AND DEATH

From 1914 until his death in January 1944, Munch sold nearly nothing but pictures bought by museums and new, commissioned work. Until then Munch had to sell pictures to live though he was reluctant and made replicas for himself. He did not sell works closely aligned to his emotional life. In 1916, Munch, now a famous artist, had finished the murals in the assembly Hall of Oslo University and purchased Ekely at Skøyen just outside the city. The artist constructed fences, let hedges and weeds grow tall, and closed off his residence to onlookers. Not strictly a misanthrope, Munch chose to live in glorious isolation. He hardly stayed in contact with family or relatives and permitted few friends to visit.

At Ekely Munch constructed interior and exterior studio spaces where, situated among works, Munch stored The Frieze of Life. At his death in January 1944 at Ekely, Munch bestowed all works in his possession to the city of Oslo– more than 1000 paintings, 15,000 prints, and about 500 watercolors and drawings. There was also some sculpture. These artworks comprise most of today’s Munch Museum – see https://www.munchmuseet.no/

In 1922 Munch painted 12 murals for a chocolate factory in Oslo. In the 1920’s and 1930’s he exhibited his art frequently— in Zurich, Basel, Berne, Berlin, Mannheim, Dresden. In 1936 and 1937, he exhibited in London, Amsterdam and Stockholm. There were major shows and retrospectives.

LAST PAINTINGS RETURN TO EARLIER DARKER SUBJECTS AND THEMES

Besides monumental work for public projects, Munch late paintings included almost genre-type scenes such as horses and workers in the field, fishermen, an elm forest, fruit trees and a garden. While the main mural for Festival Hall at Oslo University is mostly decorative, The Sun (1909-11) recalls aspects of Symbolism that Munch depicted in his darker pictures of the 1890s. Some late pictures stirred with the memory of past, darker experiences such as The Death of the Bohemian (1926) and The Bohemian’s Wedding (1926). In 1915 he painted a new version of the Death Struggle from 1895.

After contracting Spanish Flu in 1919, Munch painted his self-portrait as a convalescent from sickness and death. Twenty years later the artist painted a self portrait as an insomniac in The Night Wanderer (1939). Munch produced paintings and graphic work in great number. There are self-portraits; portraits; beach motifs; motifs from life of workers, fishermen, and farmers; garden scenes; nudes; landscapes; the theme of Faust, etc.

When Norway was invaded by Nazi Germany in April 1940 during World War II, Munch’s exhibitions outside Norway ceased by 1942. In 1937 the Nazis had labeled 37 of Munch’s paintings as “degenerate art” and they were removed and sold. After the invasion of Norway, Munch refused to have anything to do with the German occupiers. Munch stayed in Norway where he died at Ekely on January 23. 1944, at 80 years old.9

Edvard Munch, Uninvited Guests, 1932-1935, oil on canvas, 75 x 101 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

FOOTNOTES

1. Odilon Redon, To Myself, translated by Mira Jacob and Jeanne L. Wasserman, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1986, p. 23.

Quoted in Martha Kapos, The Post-Impressionists: A Retrospective, London: Beaux Arts Editions, 1993, pp. 175-180.

Jean Selz, Edvard Munch, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1974, p. 6 and 24

2. Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005, p. 2.

https://munch.emuseum.com/objects/5801/laura-munch – retrieved September 4, 2021.

3. Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen is a novel from 1885 by Norwegian writer Hans Jaeger.

J.P. Hodin, Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972, p 41.

Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005, p. 35.

Jean Selz, Edvard Munch, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1974, p. 12

4. J.P. Hodin, Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972, p 45 and p.50-52.

Arne Eggum, Edvard Munch: Paintings, Sketches, and Studies, , New York: C.N. Potter, 1984, p.61 and p. 305.

Jean Selz, Edvard Munch, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1974, p. 93.

Robert L. Delevoy, Symbolists and Symbolism, New York: Rizzoli, 1982, p. 100.

http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/worldwidemovements/hansjaeger.html  -retrieved September 4, 2021.

5. Wolf-Dieter Dube, Expressionism, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972, p.157.

J.P. Hodin, Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972, p .55; p. 61; p. 70. Pp. 51, 61, 70

Arne Eggum, Edvard Munch: Paintings, Sketches, and Studies, , New York: C.N. Potter, 1984, p.47 and p. 75.

Nancy Mowll Mathews, Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001, p. 207.

Robert L. Delevoy, Symbolists and Symbolism, New York: Rizzoli, 1982, p. 98.

Robert Goldwater, Symbolism, New York: Westview Press, 1998, p.227.

Peter Paret, The Berlin Secession, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980, pp.79-80.

6. Arne Eggum, Edvard Munch: Paintings, Sketches, and Studies, , New York: C.N. Potter, 1984, p.10 and p. 152.

J.P. Hodin, Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972, p 169.

https://theibtaurisblog.com/2012/08/06/the-graphic-works-and-prints-of-edvard-munch/ – retrieved September 4, 2021.

Jean Selz, Edvard Munch, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1974, pp. 18, 37, 45.

Philippe Jullian, Dreams of Decadence: Symbolist painters of the 1890s, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971. Pp 88-91

Michael Gibson, Symbolism, Cologne: Taschen, 1999, p.144.

Robert L. Delevoy, Symbolists and Symbolism, New York: Rizzoli, 1982, p. 97.

Rodolphe Rapetti, Symbolism, Paris: Flammarion, 2005.p. TBA

7. Robert Goldwater, Symbolism, New York: Westview Press, 1998, p.216. and 279.

J.P. Hodin, Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972, p. 81; 88-89; 103; 123. .

https://www.nrk.no/urix/korrespondentbrevet-30.-mars-1.10964285 – retrieved September 3, 2021.

Arne Eggum, Edvard Munch: Paintings, Sketches, and Studies, , New York: C.N. Potter, 1984, pp. 196, 203, 228, 236.

Edward Lucie-Smith, Symbolist Art, Thames & Hudson, 1972, p. 189.

8. J.P. Hodin, Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972, pp. 127-128.

Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005, p. 373.
9. J.P. Hodin, Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972, p. 167.

Michael Gibson, Symbolism, Cologne: Taschen, 1999, p.149.

Munch, Langarred, Johan H., Revold, Residar, New York: Universe Books, 1964,  p. i-ii; 1.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bischoff, Ulrich, Edvard Munch 1863-1944, Cologne: Taschen, 2000.
Delevoy, Robert L., Symbolists and Symbolism, New York: Rizzoli, 1982.
Dube, Wolf-Dieter, Expressionism, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Eggum, Arne, Edvard Munch: Paintings, Sketches, and Studies, New York: C.N. Potter, 1984.
Gibson, Michael, Symbolism, Cologne: Taschen, 1999.
Goldwater, Robert, Symbolism, New York: Westview Press, 1998.
Hodin, J.P., Edvard Munch, Thames & Hudson, 1972.
Jullian, Philippe, Dreams of Decadence: Symbolist Painters of the 1890s, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.
Kapos, Martha, The Post-Impressionists: A Retrospective, London: Beaux Arts Editions, 1993.
Langarred, Johan H., Revold, Residar, Munch, New York: Universe Books, 1964.
Lucie-Smith, Edward, Symbolist Art, Thames & Hudson, 1972.
Mathews, Nancy Mowll, Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001, p. 207.
Paret, Peter, The Berlin Secession, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.
Prideaux, Sue, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.
Rapetti, Rodolphe, Symbolism, Paris: Flammarion, 2005.
Redon, Odilon, To Myself, translated by Mira Jacob and Jeanne L. Wasserman, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1986.
Selz, Jean, Edvard Munch, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1974.

LIST OF WORKS BY EDVARD MUNCH

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 1886.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, crayon, 1893.

Edvard Munch, Melancholy, Laura.

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait, 1882, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Interior Pilestredet, oil on canvas, 1881, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Still Life with Jar, Apple, Walnut and Coconut, 1881, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, From Saxegårdsgate, c. 1882, oil on canvas, Lillehammer Art Museum.

Edvard Munch, Laura, 1882, oil on paper (top) and oil on cardboard, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Andreas Studying Anatomy, 1883, Oil on Cardboard, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Tête-à-tête, oil on canvas, 1885, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child (original version), 1885-86, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Hans Jæger, 1889, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Night on the Beach, 1889, Bergen Art Museum.

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait, c. 1888,  Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Portrait of the Painter Jensen -Hjell, 1885, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Night In St. Cloud, 1890, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Evening on the Karl Johan, 1889, oil, Bergen Art Museum.

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the Window, 1891, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Evening Melancholy, 1891, oil, crayon, pencil on canvas, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Rue Lafayette, 1891, oil on canvas, National Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Rue de Rivoli, 1891, oil on canvas, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Edvard Munch, Melancholy, 1893, oil, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Melancholy (The Yellow Boat), 1891, oil, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the window, 1892, oil, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Kiss, 1892, oil, Private Collection.

Edvard Munch, The Girl by the Window, 1893, oil, Art Institute of Chicago.

Edvard Munch, Separation, 1893-94, Gouache, watercolor and crayon on paper, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Parting, 1894, oil on canvas, 67 x 128 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Three Stages of Women (Sphinx), c. 1894, Bergan.

Edvard Munch, Puberty, 1894–1895, oil on canvas, 151.5 x 110 cm, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Anxiety, 1894, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Despair, 1893, oil on canvas, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Inger in Black and Violet, 1892, oil on canvas, National Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The storm, oil on canvas, 1893, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Edvard Munch, Summer Night’s Dream The Voice, 1893, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Edvard Munch, Coastal Mysticism, 1892.

Edvard Munch, Sketch of the Model Posing, 1893, pastel on cardboard, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Edvard Munch, The Hands, 1893, oil on canvas, 91 x 77 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, 1892, oil, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait Under the Mask of the Woman, 1893, oil, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait with Burning Cigarette, 1895, oil,  Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait in Hell, c. 1895, oil on canvas, 82 x 60 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Stanislaw Przybyszewski,1895, pastel, 62x55cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, oil, tempera, pastel on cardboard, National Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895. Ink.

Edvard Munch, The Kiss, 1895, Dry-point and aquatint, 34.8 x 28 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Kiss, woodcut, n.d., 44.7 x 44.7. cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Jealousy, 1896, Lithograph, 46.5 x 56.5 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Death and the Maiden, 1894, Dry-point, 30.2 x 22 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.  

Edvard Munch, Melancholy (Evening),1896, woodcut, 37.6 x 45.5.  cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Attraction, 1896, Lithograph, 47.2 x 35.5 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1896, Lithograph, 42.1 x 56.5 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Evening, Melancholy I, woodcut, 1896.

Edvard Munch, Stéphane Mallarmé, 1896, lithograph.

Edvard Munch, Auguste Strindberg, 1896, lithograph.

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait, 1895, Lithograph, 45.5×31.7 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Edvard Munch, Lady From the Sea (detail), 1896, oil on canvas. 100 cm × 320 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Voice Summer Night, 1896, 90 cm × 119 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo

Edvard Munch, Paris Boulevard, 1896, oil on canvas, 96.5 x 130 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Inheritance, 1897-99, oil on canvas, 141 x 121 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Two people, 1899, oil on canvas, 175 x 143 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Amor and Psyche, 1907, oil on canvas, 118 x 99 cm

Edvard Munch, Marat’s death, 1907, oil on canvas, 151 x148 cm, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, The Murderess, 1906, Munch museum.

Edvard Munch, Death of Marat I, 1907, 150 x 199 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the Window, 1897, oil on canvas, 99 x 80.5 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Death and the Maiden, 1893, oil on canvas, 128 x 86 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Man and Woman, 1898, oil on canvas, Bergen.

Edvard Munch, Stanislaw Przybyszewski (The Vampire), Oil and/or tempera on unprimed cardboard, 1893.

Edvard Munch, Weeping Nude, 1913–1914, 110 cm × 135 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait Against a Green Background and Caricature Portrait of Tulla Larsen, 1905.

Edvard Munch, Ashes, 1893,

Edvard Munch, The Dance of Life, 1899-1900.

Edvard Munch, Madonna, 1894, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Brooch, 1903, lithograph, 60×46 cm.

Edvard Munch, Salome, 1903, lithograph.

Edvard Munch, Fertility, 1898, woodcut, 42 x 51.7 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Women on the Beach, 1898, woodcut, 45.5 x 50.8 cm, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Red and White, 1899–1900, 93 cm × 129 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1906, Thiel Gallery, Stockholm.

Edvard Munch, Red Virginia Creeper, 1900, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm.

Edvard Munch, Young People on the Beach, 1902, oil on canvas, 90 x 174 cm.

Edvard Munch, On the beach, 1905, oil on canvas, 81x 121 cm.

Edvard Munch, Bathing Boys, c. 1904, oil on canvas, 194 x 294 cm.

Edvard Munch, Shore with Red House, 1904, oil on canvas, 69 × 109 cm, Munch Museum.
Edvard Munch, Train Smoke,1900, 84 cm × 109  cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, At The Sign of the Sweet Girl, 1907, oil on canvas, 85 x 130 cm.

Edvard Munch, Nude by the bed, c. 1907, oil on canvas, 120×121 cm.

Edvard Munch, Nude by the bed, c. 1907, oil on canvas, 120×121 cm.

Edvard Munch, Four Girls Åsgårdstrand, 1905, oil on canvas, 87x111cm.

Edvard Munch, Avenue in the snow, 1906, oil on canvas, 80 x100 cm.

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with Brushes, 1904, 197×91 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, 1906, 110 cm × 120, The Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Deathbed, 1900, oil on canvas, 100 x 110 cm.

Edvard Munch, Village Street, 1905, oil on canvas, 100×100 cm.

Edvard Munch, Prayer, 1902, woodcut, 45.8 x32.5 cm.

Edvard Munch, Dr. Daniel Jacobson, 1909, oil on canvas, 204 x 112 cm.

Edvard Munch, Nurse, 1909, dry point, 20.5×15.2  cm.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910, oil, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait Bergen, 1916, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm.

Edvard Munch, Bathing Men, 1907–1908, oil on canvas, 206 x 227.5 cm, Atheneum, Helsinki.

Edvard Munch, The Day After, 1894/5, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Moonlight in Nice, 1895, oil, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Death in the Sickroom, 1893, pastel on canvas, Munch Museum, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Girls on the Bridge,1899-1901, National Gallery, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, Mother and Daughter, 1897, Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid.

Edvard Munch, Crouching Nude, 1919, oil on canvas, Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch, Artist and his Model, 1919-1921, Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid.

PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903) and the creation of Oviri (Savage), the Symbolist artist’s mysterious she-wolf figure exhibited in Paris in 1895.

FEATURE image: Paul Gauguin, Oviri (Savage),1894, stone, 75 x 19 x 27 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Public Domain.

By John P. Walsh

By 1887 French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) had created over 50 ceramic sculptures and carved several decorative panels. So it may be expected that during his interlude in Paris between 1893 and 1895 that he would create a woodcut based on his most recent and important discovery of this Paris interval—the hideous Oviri.

Gauguin made a large ceramic of Oviri (fig. 13) in the winter of 1894-1895. The Tahitian name translates as “wild” or “savage” and, a more recent interpretation, “turned into oneself.” The artist submitted it to the annual exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts for April 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.

Submitted, Rejected, Overridden

The ceramic, envisioned by the artist as a modern, savage 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

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 the 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.

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.
1024px-Oviri_on_the_Tomb_of_Gauguin
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 collection of 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 idol showering a black light that blots out most of the natural reality around her.

In another Gauguin print from the time period that can fit 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.
https://www.academia.edu/12845381/Savagery_in_Civilization_Paul_Gauguin_and_his_Tahiti-inspired_graphic_work_in_Paris_1893-1895

PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903): 3 monotypes produced in Paris, 1893-1895, inspired by Tahiti – Tahitians Fishing; Tahitian Landscape; Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina.

FEATURE Image: 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

To take a look at a selection of three prints produced in Paris by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) that were inspired by his long trip to Tahiti from 1891 to 1893—and followed by his return there in 1895 until his death in 1903— elucidates both his artistic ideas and methods and techniques he used to produce them in this time period unique to his career.

Ever the consummate craftsman—even Gauguin’s modern art critics largely conceded his graphic arts expertise—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 that the artist sought for these Tahitian pieces.

By 1898, having returned to 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.”

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.  

1-Tahitians Fishing

In the first print to be seen, Tahitians Fishing is a small work (fig. 1). Its 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.

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.

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 in Paris. The print shows a grassy foreground and sea/vegetation/sandy shore that creates 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.

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.

Gauguin’s visual image and text searches and reflects European Symbolism and Tahiti to create a new hybrid

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 indictments 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.

Fig. 4. Gauguin, Man with an Ax, 1891/93, 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.

2-Tahitian Landscape

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

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.
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.

Gauguin presents a scene of bewilderment, ambiguity, and mystery

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).

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.
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 Gods. However, 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

3- Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina

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, at top of the blog post), the moniker 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

443px-Paul_Gauguin_-_Parau_na_te_Varua_ino_(1892)
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.

Artist’s obsession with representations of the primitive and “savage”

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.

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

paul-gauguin-7 hut
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.
507px-brooklyn_museum_-_tahitian_woman_-_paul_gauguin_-_overallfixed
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.

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.
  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.
  1. Brettell., p. 330.
  2. Ibid., p. 330.
  3. Delevoy, Robert L., Symbolists and Symbolism, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, 1982, page 54.
https://www.academia.edu/12845381/Savagery_in_Civilization_Paul_Gauguin_and_his_Tahiti-inspired_graphic_work_in_Paris_1893-1895

Savagery In Civilization: PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903) and his Tahiti-inspired graphic art In Paris, 1893-1895.

FEATURE image: Gauguin, Self-Portrait with Palette, winter 1893-94 or 1894-95, 92 x 73 cm (35 7/8 x 28 1/2 in.), private collection.

self portrait  1893-94 oil on canvas Dorsay 18x15 in 46 x 38 cm FIXED
Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait, 1893-1894. Oil on canvas, 18 x 15 in. (46 x 38 cm), Musée D’Orsay, Paris. The artist portrays himself in his new studio in Paris painted in bright colors with exotic decor including a blue and yellow sarong at the lower right. Behind him is his Manau Tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch, Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery) painted in the South Pacific in 1892.

By John P. Walsh

In May 1894 during a working visit to Brittany filled with nostalgia, a 45-year-old Paul Gauguin broke his leg above the ankle in a scuffle with sailors in broad daylight. In France just nine months after being away in French Polynesia for over two years, Gauguin was spotted playing the role of bohemian artist in Concarneau, an old fishing port which had become a busy international art colony. Gauguin made an attractive target in his outlandish attire and shoulder-length hair huddled with a coterie of young art disciples, a pet monkey, and a Ceylonese child mistress whose dark skin offended late-nineteenth-century social norms as much as her age.1  

scan gauguin map 001NEW FIXED
Map of Brittany in northwestern France showing the principal sites where Gauguin and other avant-garde artists lived and worked in the late 1880s and 1890s.

Exhibiting his penchant for questioning prevailing assumptions and bringing to Brittany the easy sexual standards he experienced in Tahiti, a dissolute Gauguin now paid for his personal freedom with serious bodily harm. The violent incident added to the changed relations Gauguin found for himself in France since his return to his homeland in late August 1893. After his 27-month artistic exile in the middle of the South Pacific starting in April 1891, the midcareer artist strove to re-establish ties among dealers, critics, collectors and artists in Paris. He had a misguided anticipation for sales of his new Tahitian paintings based on his past artistic triumphs and the handful of new Tahiti work he sent ahead of his arrival into France for exhibition in Paris to carry his objectives forward.In Brittany Gauguin’s injury required him to be hospitalized and put on morphine and alcohol as pain killers for a two-month recuperation. By late August 1894 Gauguin’s leg had healed where he traveled to nearby Quimper for his assailants’ trial. The artist had sued the ruffians for 3,000 francs, but local justice meted out a small fine.3

Gauguin did not rest on his laurels or his recent injury. Rather, since his return to France, Gauguin engaged himself almost nonstop in self-promotion on behalf of his new Tahitian art portfolio. During his recuperation Gauguin found he was unable to paint in his first full summer back in France in 1894. This was a hard irony since in his Tahitian work between 1892 and 1893 Gauguin was primarily a painter. In summer 1894 he turned to work exclusively on wood cuts and monotypes (the latter art form also called transfer drawings, watercolor transfer drawings, printed drawings, and traced monotypes). Working alone and with other artists from the Pont-Aven group, Gauguin experimented with new images, new arrangements and new applications without committing anything to oil. These print techniques ―different from etching which Gauguin found too dainty― afforded him the painterly effects, unusual textures and distorted forms that he sought and which his opponents in the modern art world vocally despised. For the sake of this post’s length and logic, a fuller presentation of four of these “savage” prints which Gauguin finished in Paris between 1893 and 1895 (among scores of others) can be discovered in a separate blog post. Excluding the collective power of his ten large and earliest woodcuts made for Noa Noa, no works of graphic art by Gauguin in this Paris period are more mysterious than the ones this article will consider – namely, Tahitians Fishing (involving Savage Eves), Tahitian Landscape (blood sacrifices), Tahitian Idol – The Goddess Hina (vying spirits in the natural world) and Oviri based on Gauguin’s ceramic sculpture.

#1 TAHITIANS FISHING
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.
#2 TAHITIAN LANDSCAPE
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.
#3 TAHITIAN IDOL-THE GODDESS HINA
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.
#4 Oviri Savage
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.

In November 1894 when Gauguin was able to return from Brittany to Paris he opened the door to his studio to find that its two rooms had been ransacked save for own art work. It had been the undertaking of Gauguin’s Ceylonese mistress, called Annah la Javanaise, who had exacted her sense of savage justice on the man from France for her services.4

GAUGUIN firends 001FIXED
Gauguin’s Studio at 6 rue Vercingétorix in Paris. Gauguin is seated at left in the broad brimmed hat. Behind him is artist Paul Sérusier with Annah la Javanaise. Standing in the black hat is painter Georges Lacombe. The two musicians are Fritz Schnedklud (center) and Larrivel (right). Photograph: Musée Gauguin, Papeari.

Following his passage from Tahiti into France on August 30, 18935, Paul Gauguin, virtually penniless, stayed in Paris with art historian Émile Schuffenecker with whom he had been estranged and by more than the High Seas.6 From fall 1892 into early spring 1893 Gauguin had been sending to Paris his new work from Tahiti ―nine canvases in total – including his first portrait of a Tahitienne, namely, Vahine no te Tiare of 1892 which today hangs in Copenhagen. Displayed in the Boulevard Montmartre gallery of Boussod, Valadon & Cie (the former Goupil & Cie),7  critical reaction to the portrait which was so important to Gauguin turned out to be mixed.8 The portrait might have served as a bellwether to Gauguin and those who paid attention to his work. Its tepid, divided response would mark the reception he received for his much larger Tahitian oeuvre in Paris between 1893 and 1895.

vahine no te tiare
Gauguin, Vahine No te Tiare (Woman with Flower), 1891. Oil on canvas, 70 x 46 cm, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

While Edgar Degas spoke well of and invested in Gauguin’s work, the two were not personally close.9 It was in conversation with younger artists and one older artist, Odilon Redon, that in January or February 1890 Gauguin was inspired to pursue the idea of a “Studio of the Tropics.” Although Redon by late summer of 1890 told Gauguin he was against his leaving France – whether to Madagascar, as first entertained, or as it happened, to Tahiti in April 1891, Gauguin was clearly not persuaded. Redon was convinced that Gauguin’s artistic development in Europe would be significant and appealed to Gauguin to reconsider.10 Gauguin wrote to Redon from Le Pouldu in September of 1890:

“…The reasons you give me for staying in Europe are more flattering than they are likely to convince me. My mind is made up…I judge that my art, which you like, is only a seedling thus far, and out there I hope to cultivate it…Here, Gauguin is finished, and nothing more will be seen of him…”11

In Tahiti Gauguin made his home in Papeete and soon after in Mataiea before he returned to Paris two years and three months later in August 1893. He stayed in the French capital  for twenty-two months until a second departure for Tahiti in June 1895 when this time, indeed, nothing more would be seen of him (“My design, Gauguin wrote, “(is) to bury myself in the South Sea Islands.”)12 It could not be known until December 1894 that Gauguin had decided to return to Tahiti – although in 1894 his letters expressed longing for it.13 His time in Paris possessed a “liminal” quality in that he occupied a position at or on both sides of a boundary or threshold of Tahiti. From 1893 to 1895 in Paris Gauguin had two distinct worlds to draw on and consider for his art – one, an echo of Redon’s advice in 1890 to develop artistically in Europe and two, his memory of Tahiti from 1891 to 1893. The South Seas had imparted to Gauguin new images for him to paint that he could not find in France – and he worked to promote these discoveries and ruminate on them in current work. Unlike Brittany of which the artist was fond, Tahiti surrounded Gauguin with a strangeness that allowed his imagination to take greater hold of the mystery, savagery, and otherness that he increasingly sought to express in his artistic work. Both worlds can be found in Gauguin’s  art of this Paris period –  Tahiti in the new images based on primitiveness and savagery and France in the forms of Symbolism and Synthetism that Gauguin learned and helped lead after 1888. Each of these worlds – one definitely savage and the other civilized or also savage based on one’s art critical perspective in early 1890s Paris – informed the other in formal terms and the impressions inspired by the artist’s dreams, exaggerations and inventions.

Paul Gauguin had come back to France actually intending to stay14 but as time passed his connection to the faraway islands became too strong to forsake. At Café Escoffier in Paris on December 7, 1894, Gauguin announced his return to Tahiti and left France forever the following year. In those 660 days in France Gauguin worked to force rapid public acceptance of his work and ended up being all but shunned by the French public. Gauguin brought to Tahiti in 1891 the experience of all the art he had made in the late 1880s with Vincent Van Gogh in Arles and with Émile Bernard and Paul Sérusier in Brittany as well as his deep admiration for Redon’s noirs.  Primitive culture in Polynesia, while truncated and absorbed into French rule, appealed to him and in the Paris interlude Gauguin obsessed about the island in his literature and art.15

Paul_Gauguin-_Manao_tupapau_(The_Spirit_of_the_Dead_Keep_Watch)
Gauguin. Manao Tupapau (Spirit of the Dead Watching), 1892. Oil on canvas. 28 1/2 x 36 3/8 in. (72.5 x 92.5 cm), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

Gauguin took the initiative to woo the French art-buying public and even the State to embrace the sixty-six paintings that comprised his Tahitian portfolio. His failure to take Paris by storm in this period― book-ended by a two-week commercial exhibition at Durand-Ruel’s in November 1893 and a Drouot auction on February 18, 1895 ―is blamed for his leaving for Tahiti the second and final time. These disappointments had a financial bearing – he sold only eleven of forty-one paintings from Tahiti at Durand-Ruel’s and just nine out of forty seven works at the Hôtel Drouot – but their apathetic reception affected more than a mercantile Gauguin. It is a historical irony that one of Gauguin’s unsold Tahitian paintings from this period – his 1892 double portrait “Nafea Faa Ipoipo” (When Will You Marry?)” – was sold in February 2015 by a Swiss family foundation to a group of state museums in Qatar for a record nearly $300 million. In 1893 the artist priced it at no higher than 3,000 francs or about $15,000 in 2015 dollars.

101.5 x 77.5 cm; Öl auf Leinwand; Inv. Dep 105
Gauguin, Nafea faa ipoipo (When Will You Marry Me?), oil on canvas, 101 by 77 cm (40 in × 30 in.).

In art work Gauguin was preparing for the public and for his private rumination he continued his “searching deep within himself”16 begun in Tahiti with its exotic theme being paramount. Throughout the period of 1893 to 1895, in Paris and in Brittany, Gauguin escaped into a Tahitian world of his own imaginings by way of his highly experimental graphic work.17 Gauguin brought to Paris with him his notes and sketch books from Tahiti and meditated on them during the course of his Paris sojourn. He thought of these mementos as “my letters, my secrets”18 and one wonders about his intention to commercially exhibit these trial works. In summer 1894 Gauguin gave away some of his watercolors19 and while this action may serve as a memento or payment to a friend, it points to a tentativeness with which Gauguin viewed these first works. “The world I am discovering,” Gauguin wrote in a letter months later, “is a Paradise the outlines of which I shall have merely sketched out and between the sketch and the realization of the vision there is a long way to go.”20

Aside from around fifteen paintings he did in France from 1893 to 1895, Gauguin’s work is mainly (with some overlap in art forms) in the graphic arts and literature, including Noa Noa, Ancien Culte Mahorie, and Cahier Pour Aline. Starting in Paris during this period and until his death in May 1903, Gauguin worked to transform himself from an artist to an artist and writer. The general idea for this effort was not original to Gauguin; it may even be a reaction to his critics who derided him as a “writer’s painter” – that is, one who obscured his instinctive painterly talent with literary or ideal concerns. Criticism of Gauguin’s art for this specific reason was deep and extensive in 1890s France by many leading intellectuals who favored the prevailing Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist art forms which promoted a naturalist and modernist art and that Gauguin had abandoned in the late 1880s. Gauguin angered and annoyed artists and critics and they derided his current work forcefully. According to Félix Fénéon Gauguin’s art was unnatural, irrational and illogical and constituted a step backwards for modern art which had staked a secular, democratic, and progressive course. For Camille Pissarro and Impressionist artists such as Paul Signac – Gauguin’s Synthetist and Symbolist styles and forms were retrograde and should be actively resisted. “Let us study Delacroix, Corot, Puvis, Manet and leave those (other) humbugs to their own devices,”21 wrote Signac in 1895 about Monsieur Gauguin.

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Gauguin, three wooden sculptures exhibited at Durand Ruel’s in November 1893. Photography Georges Chaudet. Gauguin’s commercial exhibition at Durand-Ruel’s included 41 Tahitian paintings, 3 Brittany paintings, 1 ceramic and wood sculptures called “tiis.”

Although brief and contentious, Paris turned out to be a productive time for Gauguin’s art.22 In December 1893 following decent sales after his exhibition at Durand-Ruel’s, Gauguin wrote from Paris to his wife Mette in Copenhagen and pointedly did not discuss his earnings which likely netted him about 10,000 francs – or $50,000 in 2015 dollars.23 Gauguin talked around the money issue to reflect on his attitude for any future art world gambit which would likely be undertaken immediately. “My show,” Gauguin wrote to his faraway spouse, “has not in fact given the results that might have been expected but we must look facts in the face…The most important thing is that my exhibition had a very great artistic success, has even provoked passion and jealousy. The press has treated me …rationally, with words of praise. For the moment I am considered by many people to be the greatest modern painter.”24

Many viewers, however, were perplexed by the artist’s refusal to translate into French the Tahitian titles found in scores of his paintings. Others were amused by the bohemian role he had assumed for himself in astrakhan hat and gilet. Gauguin was obsessed with exhibiting his major Tahitian paintings, continuing to produce that kind of work in Paris and trying to explain this portfolio to the public through his studio invitations, writings, and “image translations.” He wanted to see his Tahitian work conquer the Paris art world.25 While many Parisians did not accept or understand Gauguin’s Tahiti art they were fascinated by it. The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago opened in May 1893 and closed just ten days before Gauguin’s Tahiti show opened at Durand-Ruel’s. The Chicago Fair, inspired by the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition, showcased ethnological “villages” that attracted nearly thirty million people. Despite a set course for Impressionism as the parameter for modern art, Gauguin’s cutting-edge Tahiti art could not be ignored completely by Parisians who felt an intense curiosity about exotic locales, especially French Polynesia.26 In Paris Gauguin showed himself to be tireless to capitalize on this current passion. In his letters he ceaselessly complains, justifies his every action, demands extraordinary things of others and lays grand plans for himself because he believed his artistic career was on the verge of greatness but frustratingly incomplete. He poured his energy into his several artistic exhibitions in Paris and elsewhere, produced critical articles and letters for journals, and began to pull together his Tahiti adventures to write Noa Noa with his occasional friend Charles Morice. Morice added a preface, a chapter entitled “Songeries,” as well as the poems. Portions of  Noa Noa (“pleasing fragrance”) appeared for the first time in La Revue Blanche, between October 15 and November 1, 1897, more than two years after Gauguin returned to Tahiti. Yet Gauguin used the writing project in late 1893 to excuse himself from traveling to Copenhagen to see his wife Mette.27 

charles morice 1893 Eugene Carriere
Eugène Carrière, Portrait of Charles Morice, 1893 Oil on canvas, 46.5 x 38.5 cm, Clemens Sels Museum, Neuss, Germany.
Gauguin, Portrait of Mette, 1877, The Courtauld Gallery, London.

In Paris Gauguin produced a slew of graphic work and some painting and sculpture. His message from the French capital to his far off wife was interchangeable with what it had been from Tahiti: “I am up to my neck in work!” and that he needed money.28 Regardless of his committed efforts at self-promotion and artistic expansion in Paris – including all aspects of publicity, catalog production, and stock preparation for his Tahiti exhibitions as well as mending fences with old friends and rejoining social networks such as Stéphane Mallarmé’s “les jeudis”29  – criticism and sales receipts did not fulfill the artist’s hopes for his new art. Following Durand-Ruel’s, Gauguin in January 1894 rented a two-room studio on Rue Vercingétorix and fills it with his unsold art that amounted to dozens of paintings and sculptures as well as his current work, some flea-market exotica, and an ethnographic collection. He famously decorated the walls in chrome yellow and olive green―reminiscent of Pierre Loti’s residence in western France with its valuable Far Eastern art collection30― and invited friends to share in his les mardis where they played music, told travel stories, and the host read from his work-in-progress, Noa Noa. 31

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Courtyard apartment, 6 rue Vercingétorix, in the Montparnasse section of Paris, around the time of Gauguin’s residence. The location is difficult to imagine in modern Paris today.

One question asked about Gauguin’s Tahitian and Tahitian-inspired oeuvre was which of it is strictly Tahitian and which is western influenced – or, what is direct observation and what is artifice? Exceptional global coordinates did not prevent Gauguin’s first Tahitian experience from 1891 to 1893 to have a European and specifically French flavor. At Durand-Ruel’s exhibition one critic traced the origins of Gauguin’s Ia Orana Maria of 1891, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to a late-1870s work by Jules Bastien-Lepage. In the French press he scoffed at Gauguin’s canvas as “nothing but a Bastien-Lepage done Tahitian style.”32 This sort of critical charge underscores the ground-breaking nature of Gauguin’s art as it introduced primitivism into the European cosmopolitan avant-garde at the turn of the century. Tahiti was an official French colony since 1880 and like most Frenchmen Gauguin had little to no knowledge of its indigenous beliefs and customs. Further, he found no indigenous cultural artifacts during his first stay although he did late in his stay discover published sources for indigenous objects and practices that influenced his art by way of a Belgian scholar.33 In addition to Gauguin’s main artistic threat at “terrorizing reality” and creating ugly art as Fénéon and others strongly postulated, the challenge to Gauguin’s lack of direct observation of Tahitian subject matter or overall Tahitian expertise helped to dismiss his new art as “inauthentic.” Gauguin’s personal life was also fodder for criticism by his artistic enemies. For instance, that it was discovered that Gauguin procured his exotic mistress, Annah la Javanaise, only after his return to Paris stealing her from a French singer after meeting her possibly through art dealer Ambroise Vollard lent an almost boorish air to his art-world bearing. That after 1895 Annah la Javanaise became Alphonse Mucha’s mistress in the same building in which she ransacked Gauguin’s studio in August or September 1894, was a further curiosity.34  

Perhaps to be expected from leading Impressionists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Paul Signac, each balked before Gauguin’s forty-one Tahitian canvases during his one-man show at Durand-Ruel’s in November 1893. Two days before the show closed Pissarro wrote to his cher Lucien: “I saw Gauguin; he told me his theories about art and assured me that the young would find salvation by replenishing themselves at remote and savage sources. I told him that this art did not belong to him, that he was a civilized man and hence it was his function to show us harmonious things. We parted, each unconvinced. Gauguin is certainly not without talent, but how difficult it is for him to find his own way! He is always poaching on someone’s ground; now he is stealing from the savages of Oceania.”35 Yet during that two-week show Gauguin received a complimentary review from Octave Mirbeau, his old champion, and a reported verbal endorsement from major Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé.  While some new paintings done by Gauguin in Paris are clear aesthetic hybrids of Europe and Polynesia―such as Portrait de Upaupa Schneklud and Aita Parari te Tamari Vahine Judith, both from 1894―Vaïraumati tei oa (Her Name is Vairaumati), a painting he started in Tahiti in 1892 based on his new-found knowledge of  indigenous gods, received its mystery and savagery out of French Symbolism and this trend of inculcating his Tahitian iconography with contemporary if controversial European influences would significantly deepen in Paris.

Le violoncelliste (Portrait de Upaupa Schneklud) Baltimore
Gauguin, Upaupa Schneklud, 1894, oil on canvas, 92.5 x 73.5 cm (36 x 28 5/8 in.), The Baltimore Museum of Art.
040339_Gauguin_Aita Parari Te Tamari Vahine Judith NEW FIXED
Gauguin, Aita Tamari Vahine Judith Te Parari, 1893-1894, oil on canvas, 116 x 81 cm (45 1/4 x 31 1/2 in.), private collection.

The argument over whether Gauguin’s Tahitian oeuvre was either authentic, exploitative colonialism or the condition for an artistic sham continued during his Paris stay. After it was revealed that Gauguin was returning to Tahiti in spring 1895, the regular art critic for Mercure de France ridiculed his decision based on the artist’s published contention that his rendering of the unnatural and the ideal were his muses. “Why must he leave his Breton digs,” Camille Mauclair wrote, “and exile himself in Tahiti to execute his painting which could, as Gauguin himself said, be done without leaving his room?” Even the artist traveling to Tahiti could be viewed, under certain critical conditions, as inauthentic to Gauguin’s own Tahitian-inspired modern art.36

Paul Gauguin. Vaïraumati tei oa (Her Name is Vairaumati). 1892. Oil on canvas. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia.FIXED
Gauguin. Vaïraumati tei oa (Her Name is Vairaumati). 1892. Oil on canvas. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia.

Lagging sales in Paris and in Copenhagen of Gauguin’s Tahitian art portfolio remained a sore point for the artist. Whatever the date or venue― Durand-Ruel’s from November 10-25, 1893; an auction of Père Tanguy’s art collection with six works by Gauguin on June 2, 1894; a sales-exhibition in his atelier of Gauguin’s woodcuts, monotypes, wood sculptures and Tahitian paintings from December 2-9, 1894; or a February 18, 1895 Drouot auction of 47 works of art – sales performance for the “greatest modern painter” consistently underwhelmed. Such headwinds pushed Gauguin to “face facts” in a changed manner. In December 1893 he had bragged to Mette about bidders at Durand-Ruel’s going as high as 1,500 francs on his asking price of 2,000 to 3,000 francs for a Tahitian canvas and he conceiving a potential fallback price of 1,000 francs for each of his paintings. A year later, hungry for cash and wanting to unload his 4-year-old stock, Gauguin offered the same dealer thirty-five Tahitian canvases for 600 francs each.37

What might have occurred for Gauguin if he had stayed in Paris instead of going back to Tahiti, while impossibly speculative, is hinted at by his choice of Swede August Strindberg to write his catalog introduction for the February 1895 Drouot auction. While Strindberg could be simply viewed as another national hybrid – that of the Nordic lands and France – by the mid 1890s there could be no more propitious moment for Gauguin to interact with this avant-garde literary figure. About Gauguin’s age, Strindberg had also broke with naturalism around 1890 and subsequently was in personal and artistic crisis as he sought new arts forms in an emerging Symbolism. For his proposed catalog introduction Strindberg recognized Gauguin to be a savage and what defined a savage, according to the playwright, novelist and poet, is that he created art work that is neither beautiful nor harmonious but original and unique.  

August-Strindberg-self-portrait-1892-1893-©-National-Library-of-Sweden
August Strindberg, Self Portrait in Berlin, 1892, National Library of Sweden.

In mid1890s Paris the city was in the midst of a technological revolution. It was in color lithography and that mechanical art form proliferated among artists like wildfire which a competitive Gauguin could not have failed to notice. His reaction to the popular modern modality was to remain undeterred in his pursuit of the low-tech woodcut. The savage, Strindberg wrote, is independent and uncompromising. In the rush to technology, Gauguin’s defiance – or what Mette called his “most monstrously brutal egoism” –contributed to the woodcut’s revival at this time. More important, in the graphic arts no contemporary French artist could approach Gauguin’s power and vitality.38 In the Paris period from 1893 to 1895 – and extending to 1900 – Gauguin had no dealer representation. Gauguin broke and then drifted away from the security of Impressionism that Degas, Monet, Renoir and Cassatt enjoyed.39 Strindberg, an artistic visionary, could bring little to Gauguin by way of collectors or patrons.  Like Gauguin, he brought the integrity of his artistic experience which around that time was regrettably bordering on insanity. Three months before leaving France, Gauguin, resigned or relishing his social and artistic isolation, wrote to writer-artist Maurice Denis in March 1895. Gauguin wrote to congratulate the younger artist on an article he published on Armand Séguin, Gauguin’s print-making comrade in Brittany in summer 1894―and includes this short line on a modern artist’s role that might serve as Gauguin’s epitaph in France:

“What prompts me to write you is the pleasure it gives me to see painters looking after their own business….Go on all of you fighting with the brush as well as the pen, and in my retreat (in the South Seas) I shall cherish this fervent hope.”40

1. self-portrait-with-palette-1894
Gauguin, Self-Portrait with Palette, winter 1893-94 or 1894-95, 92 x 73 cm (35 7/8 x 28 1/2 in.), private collection. His new friend Armand Séguin (1869–1903) described the older Gauguin at this time with “his astrakhan hat and his huge dark blue overcoat buttoned with a precious buckle, in which he looked to the Parisians like a sumptuous, gigantic Magyar, or like Rembrandt in 1635.” (Séguin 1903a, 160).

The Paris interlude for Gauguin was about reworking and reinterpreting his first Tahitian experience. Whether Breton coifs or Tahitian pareos, Gauguin uses them to express his themes of distant memory, savagery, mystery, darkness, androgyny, sensual melancholy, exoticism, and the hieratic. His art united disparate objects and themes but under a veil of mystery and ambiguity. As a craftsman he uses symbolical objects to express a deeper idea than the surface meaning of the artifacts that a viewer can identify. Along with his unsold canvases Gauguin filled his Paris studio with Tahitian fabrics, wooden sculptures, weapons, trophies, and photographs and then advertised for collectors to come and steep themselves in the new language of modern art.41 Through hard work and artistic vision in France involving Synthetism, Symbolism, and from 1893 to 1895, Tahitianism, Gauguin remained an avant-garde leader. Gauguin’s art divided critical opinion but ever the passionate individualist who possessed an optimistic expectation for himself he saw much of his ambition realized in Paris in those short months. His wife Mette was responsive to his interests and he received his share of critical praise and sales for his exhibitions. In his art Gauguin combined fact and fantasy, reality and imagination and used a variety of artistic media and innovative techniques.42 In Paris by way of his re-workings of his Tahitian experience Gauguin deepened his vision of the islands and served his appetite to be, as Gustave Flaubert might arrange, “violent and revolutionary” in his work. Between 1893 and 1895 Impressionist Paris is artistically lost in the background to Paul Gauguin: there is no more than one canvas of its snow-covered roofs out of a courtyard window that was painted by him. The importance of Tahiti in Gauguin’s psyche in this Paris interlude cannot be overstated – and it becomes increasingly evident after his return there which soon resulted in his second (and final) Polynesian sojourn.

NOTES:

*In 1890 one French Franc was the equivalent of about 20 U.S. cents. $1 today had about $20 of buying power in 1890. http://www.fisheaters.com/forums/index.php?topic=3458337.0

  1. Mathews, Nancy Mowll, Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001, p. 205.
  2. Ibid. p.193.
  3. Malingue, Maurice, Paul Gauguin: Letters to his Wife and Friends, The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1949 (Letter 150, Gauguin to William Molard), p. 193.
  4. “First Tahitian period Gauguin primarily painter…” Brettell, Richard, et.al., The Art of Paul Gauguin, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and The Art Institute of Chicago, 1988, p. 297; “exclusively on watercolor transfers and woodcuts” – Ibid., p. 293; “print techniques” – Boyle-Tuner, Caroline, in collaboration with Samuel Josefowitz, foreward by Douglas Druick, The Prints of the Pont-Aven School: Gauguin and His Circle in Brittany, Abbeville Press, New York, 1986, p.106; “atelier…plundered…”, Bretell, p. 294.
  5. For Gauguin’s return date, August 30, 1893 according to Gloria Groom in Brettell, p. 291 and August 23, 1893 according to Nancy Mowll Mathews in Mathews, p. 193.
  6. Mathews, p. 194.
  7. Mathews, p. 300; Thomson, Belinda, Gauguin, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1897 (reprinted 1997), p 138.
  8. Thomson, p 138.
  9. Mathews, p.195.
  10. Rewald, John, Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Third Edition, 1978, p. 414.
  11. Thomson, Belinda, Gauguin By Himself, Chartwell Books, Edison, NJ, 1998, pp.122-3.
  12. Malingue, (Letter 157, Gauguin to Maurice Denis), p. 200.
  13. Mathews, p. 207.
  14. Salvesen, Britt, Gauguin, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York, 2001, p. 57.
  15. Thomson, Gauguin, p.156.
  16. Ibid., p.140.
  17. Brettell, p. 300.
  18. Exhibition Pamphlet, “Intimate Encounters Paul Gauguin and the South Pacific,” The Edward McCormick Blair Collection, September 6, 2003 to January 11, 2004, the Art Institute of Chicago.
  19. Mathews, p. 203.
  20. Malingue, (Letter 154, Gauguin to August Strindberg), February 5, 1895, p.197.
  21. see Georges Lecomte (1867-1958), “Salon XX, conférence de M. Georges Lecomte,” L’Art moderne, 28 February 1892, p. 67 and Francois Thiébault-Sisson (1856-1944), “Les Petits Salons” in Le Temps, December 2, 1893. “What artist would be more gifted if exclusively literary friendships did not cloud his judgment and paralyze the instinctive sense of painting that he has?” -quoted in Mathews, p. 203. For Félix Fénéon, Camille Pissarro and Paul Signac quote, see Marlais, Michael, Conservative Echoes in Fin-de-Siècle Parisian Art Criticism, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 1992, pp. 98-101.
  22. see Brettell, p. 297; Delevoy, Robert L., Symbolists and Symbolism, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, 1982, p. 159; Stevenson, Lesley, Gauguin, Gallery Books/W.H. Smith Publishers, Inc., New York, 1990, p. 56; Crepaldi, Gabriele, trans. Sylvia Tombesi-Walton, Gauguin, Dorling Kindersley, London, 1998,  p. 92.
  23. Mathews, p. 197.
  24. Malingue, (Letter 145, Gauguin to Mette), pp. 187-88.
  25. “image translations” –Brettell, p. 330; Druick, Douglas W. and Zegers, Peter Kort, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, Thames & Hudson, New York 2001, p. 342.
  26. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma96/wce/history.html – retrieved May 20, 2015 and Mathews, p. 196.
  27. Salvesen, p. 52; Druick , Zegers and Kort, pp. 292 and 345; https://library.temple.edu/scrc/charles-morice-papers.
  28. Malingue, letter 142, Gauguin to his wife, September 1893, p.186.
  29. Mathews, p. 195-196.
  30. Ibid., p. 197.
  31. Brettell, p. 301.
  32. Thomson, Gauguin, p.146.
  33. “European sources” – Ibid., p. 143; “little knowledge of indigenous beliefs and customs” and “by way of a Belgian” – Ibid., p.156; “found no indigenous cultural artefacts” – Ibid., p. 161.
  34. Salvesen, pps. 50-51.
  35. Pissarro, Camille, Letters to his Son Lucien, edited by John Rewald, Peregrine Smith, Inc., Santa Barbara and Salt Lake City, 1981, p. 280.
  36. Mirbeau – Mathews, p.197; Mallarmé reportedly said: “It is extraordinary that one should be able to put so much mystery into so much splendor.” – Dorra, Henri, Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Anthology, University of California press, 1994, p.209; Mauclair – Mathews, p.210.
  37. “bragged about bidders..” Malingue (Letter 145, Gauguin to Mette), p. 187-88; “thirty-five canvases for 600 francs each…” -Brettell, p. 294.
  38. Strindberg –Mathews, p. 207; color lithography and woodcuts revival – Shapiro, p. 133; “brutal egoism”-quoted in Claire Frèches-Thory, “The Exhibition at Durand-Ruel,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, p. 84.
  39. Ibid., p. 200.
  40. Malingue, (Letter 157, Gauguin to Maurice Denis), pp. 200-201.
  41. Brettell, p. 300; Crepaldi, p. 92.
  42. Druick and Zegers, p. 344.
https://www.academia.edu/12845381/Savagery_in_Civilization_Paul_Gauguin_and_his_Tahiti-inspired_graphic_work_in_Paris_1893-1895

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