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ORIGINS OF GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST PAINTING: THE EARLY MODERN ART CAREER OF ALEXEI VON JAWLENSKY (1864-1941), RUSSIAN-ÉMIGRÉ PAINTER, FROM 1889 TO THE BLUE RIDER IN MUNICH IN 1911.

Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), Russian-émigré German Expressionist painter.

SUMMARY:

Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), a young Russian-émigré artist to Germany beginning in the mid 1890’s, became one of the most progressive avant-garde modernist artists of his generation. His international search—from Russia to France, England and the Low Countries, as well as his lifelong expatriate base in Munich, Germany—led him to experiment and synthesize unto German Expressionism the main currents of modern art styles before World War One. This included significant borrowings from Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Cloisonnism, Synthetism, Symbolism, and Fauvism. Jawlensky, with Russian compatriot Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and German painter Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), among several others, pursued a decade-long dialogue of their individual experimentation, particularly in the liberation of color and form, as, in part, an artistic response to a modern society increasingly saturated by industrialization and mechanization. Within the socio-economic context of a rising newly-formed German Empire before World War I, these emergent German Expressionists sought to free the object (and unto the natural world) from its objective fixity and situate it within the inner feelings and spirit of the artist. Within European modernism, Jawlensky developed a wide network of contacts and took especial inspiration from modern painters such as Édouard Manet (1832-1883), Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and others. Jawlensky sought in modern art exhibitions and the co-founding of, and participation in, the New Munich Artist’s Association in 1909 and Der Blaue Reiter in 1911, to lead modern art towards representational expressionism and abstraction.

Alexei von Jawlensky, Self Portrait, 1912.

In 1871, the newly-founded German Empire fused together most of the German speaking states in Central Europe under Prussian leadership. Over the next 60 years under several different forms of government—that of Emperor Wilhelm I (1871-1888), his grandson Wilhelm II (1888-1918) and, following World I, the Weimer Republic (1918-1933) —Germany worked to create and define a political and cultural identity all its own.

In World War I (1914-1918), the recent German Empire fought to consolidate its gains but the effort failed—and Central European powers were divided up into smaller states after the war. The German Empire had risen and fallen in less than 50 years.1

Before unification in 1871, German-speaking denizens of Central Europe came from many independent and differing political units. The Kingdom of Prussia, which in 1816 annexed the Kingdom of Brandenburg, was the foremost German power alongside Austria. Long-held liberal dreams based on the French Revolution of 1789, the Napoleonic empire (defeated at Waterloo in 1815) and later mid-19th century pan-European revolutions looked to unify these diverse states into a national union based on self-determination. But these idealistic political aspirations did not reflect all the conditions and facts in these lands.

Napoleon’s invasions into Central Europe in 1806 and 1807 resulted in German state governments that were conservative and anti-constitutional monarchies. When unification came for Germany in 1871, it was not by popular uprisings or democracy. It was the diplomatic handiwork of the six-foot-three-inch Prussian prime minister, Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898).

Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898).

In 1849, Otto von Bismarck was elected to the Landtag, or Prussian parliament. Following a decade of government service, König Wilhelm of Prussia appointed Bismarck in 1862 as Minister President of Prussia and Foreign Minister. This gave Bismarck virtual absolute power.

In 1866, Bismarck started a short, decisive war with Austria. It proved Prussia was the dominant force in German territory. The Austrian war led to the Prussians with their allies annexing territories and forming the North German Confederation comprised of 22 German states. Nationalism throughout German-speaking Europe rose significantly after this military victory over Austria which had in the contest lost its dominant power position in Europe.

By 1870, German unification was both cause and effect of German nationalism. Unification was opposed by European nations, particularly France, as well as German expansion. The smaller German kingdoms reacted to the diplomatic opposition by uniting with Prussia. It was France that, since the 17th century, was viewed as the actual destabilizing force in Europe, and not a new Germany.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 which started when France was maneuvered by Bismarck to declare war on the North German Confederation, was a disastrous defeat for France. The Prussian victory allowed them to annex Alsace-Lorraine from the French and became another impetus for independent German states to join a united Germany. The German empire was founded and declared on New Year’s Day, 1871. Bismarck crowned Wilhelm as Kaiser Wilhelm I, and Bismarck became Grand Chancellor.

With Austria as an exception, Bismarck ruled the German states as the Second Reich. He brutally censored and repressed any contradictory forces to German nationalism—including the Catholic Church and the Communists and worked to mold scattered German speaking residents into one political and cultural nationality. This nationalistic vision of centralized power—and entangling alliances to support or offset it—led to the mechanized death mill of World War I. In that conflict, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire—the so-called Central Powers—fought the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and, later, the United States.

In this “Great War” the total number of military and civilian casualties on both sides was around 40 million—about 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. Of the 20 million deaths, it included about 10 million in the military and 10 million civilians. The Allies lost almost 6 million soldiers and the Central Powers lost about 4 million.2

World War I was a dividing point in modern history which also had effects on modern art in Germany. Many young, avant-garde artists were killed in action as soldiers in the war. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), both Russian-émigrés, had to flee Germany, only to emerge from the general carnage years later. After the war, German architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) believed that his work could be picked up precisely where it was left off before the war. But Gropius quickly realized that was not going to happen going forward, as if the worldwide calamity could exclude art-making in its whirlwind.

Prior to World War I, however, the German Empire experienced dynamic activity and prosperity. During Wilhelm II’s 30-year reign (1888-1918), rapid industrialization, population growth, and the growing gap between an increasingly wealthy and politically influential elite and disenchanted working class rippled throughout the empire. Berlin became Germany’s national capital and Europe’s young new city.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, c. 1901, by German painter Christian Heyden (1854-1939).

Antique map of the German Empire in 1900 showing population density.

Within this modern-state commotion, the role of art in Germany became a battle for the nation’s soul: from the pole of freedom to produce outstanding artworks in the modernist spirit to a regressive cultural heritage with proto-fascist overtones. Cultural conservatives argued for turning inward to German sources for the future direction of German art. These conservative critics dismissed French Impressionism as nonacademic, genre painting of modern life. Above all, it was foreign.

Conversely, the Berlin Secession (1898-1934) and Neue Galerie Thannhauser in Munich challenged academic and state-sponsored artwork and introduced international styles. These venues were where Germans went to see post-Impressionists such as Vincent Van Gogh and later Cubists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

By the dawn of the 20th century, what it meant to be German, and among a culturally diverse citizenry, was a 30-year experimental construct forged by Bismarck using raw power so to achieve a unified empire on the world stage. The fall of that empire and the peace that followed it, helped set the stage for the rise of Fascism leading to World War II.

Modern artists of the key artistic movements of the Wilhelmine period, particularly Expressionist art groups such as Die Brücke (“The Bridge”) in Dresden from 1905 to 1913 and Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”) in Munich from 1911 to 1914 — avant-garde forms of modernist abstraction and romanticism — wanted to offset conventional social values based on German industrial materialism by using a contradictory form of self-expression based on the sensual and spiritual.

The issue of what exactly was, or would be, “German” art in the modern age were the stakes for these artists. These artists sought to unify body and soul by expressing internal qualities through exterior appearances and saw this integrated expression as their contribution to that societal and artistic endeavor.3 Progressive artists never dismissed the idea of a German art. They sought its expression in avant-garde artistic elements and forms thereby rejecting its basis on historical and cultural anecdote or nostalgia.

Published in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1900 the map of the Russian Empire is labeled in French with topography relief shown by hachures and Paris as the meridian reference. Transcontinental rail lines in Russia and extend to Paris. Jawlensky, born in western Russia in 1864 was stationed in the 1880’s as a soldier in Moscow and St. Petersburg. As a professional artist in Germany in the 1890’s and afterwards, Jawlensky returned to visit Russia including in the year this map was made. (see- https://www.mapsofthepast.com/russia-empire-kartograficheskoe-circa-1900.html

Alexei von Jawlensky, born in Torzhok in western Russia in 1864, started his career in the military. At 25 years old, in 1889, Jawlensky, stationed in Moscow, requested a transfer to St. Petersburg to study painting at the Academy of Arts. In St. Petersburg, Jawlensky learned about the French Impressionists, particularly the artwork of Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). In 1892, while taking painting lessons with Russian naturalist painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930), Jawlensky met realist painter Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938) who became his mistress and dedicated patron. In 1893 Von Werefkin invited Jawlensky to her father’s estate in Kovno governorate (modern Lithuania) where Jawlensky met Hélène Nesnakomoff (1881-1965), Von Werekin’s personal maid. In time she became Jawlensky’s mistress, mother of his child and, ultimately, in 1922, his wife.

Jawlensky at 23 years old in his military uniform in Russia in 1887.

Marianne von Werefkin.

After seven years studying art in St. Petersburg, Jawlensky’s request to leave the military was granted. He left in early 1896 with a 20-year half pension and the rank of staff captain. That summer Jawlensky traveled through Germany, Holland and Belgium with Marianne von Werefkin and a female friend. Returning to St. Petersburg by way of Paris and London, Jawlensky viewed and admired artwork of J. W. M. Turner (1775-1851) and living artists, James Whistler (1834-1903) and Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898).

In St. Petersburg, Jawlensky entrusted his possessions with family in Russia. With two young painter friends, Igor Grabar (1871-1960) and Dmitrij Kardovskij (1866-1943), he set off to settle in Munich at the end of 1896. Marianne von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff joined Jawlensky soon after. From his arrival into Munich, Jawlensky lived, with the exception of World War I, in Germany until his death in 1941. In 1897 Jawlensky, Von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff took an apartment at Giselastrasse 23, a residential street near the Englischen Garten, where they lived until 1914.

Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky in their studio at Gut Blagodat, 1893.

In Munich Jawlensky attended Anton Ažbe’s art school where he met other young German artists, and in 1897, fellow Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky. Anton Ažbe (1862-1905), a Slovene realist painter, was a master of human anatomy. He enforced figure drawing studies in his classes which Kandinsky loathed but Jawlensky had been studying since 1890. Kandinsky did appreciate Ažbe’s expressed view that an artist should never conform to a theory or set of rules. Ažbe, who died at 43 years old of cancer in 1905, said: “You must know your own anatomy but in front of the easel you must forget it.”4

Anton Ažbe, Self portrait, 1886.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Jawlensky met Kandinsky in 1897 in Munich at Anton Ažbe’s art school.

After five months in Munich, Jawlensky traveled to Venice in April 1897. He went with Werefkin, Grabar and Kardovskij, and Anton Ažbe. The next summer, in 1898, Jawlensky returned to Russia with Marianne von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff to visit family. That autumn the Russian group returned to Munich, where artists continued to draw heads and nudes at Azbé’s school. In 1898 Jawlensky met German Symbolist painter Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) and Kandinsky, in 1900, matriculated in his art class.5 Jawlensky’s conversation with von Stuck was not on the expression of German character in Symbolist art but the technical issue of working in tempura. In 1898 Jawlensky also received a visit from Russian portraitist Valentin Serov (1865-1911).

Franz von Stuck, Lucifer, 1890, oil on canvas, Bulgaria. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, critics observed that Franz von Stuck (1863–1928) was “one of the most versatile and ingenious of contemporary German artists.” Jawlensky met the renowned Symbolist painter, architect, designer, and co-founder of the Munich Secession in 1898.  

Valentin Serov (1865-1911). Self portrait, c. 1888.

In 1899, with Grabar and Kardovskij, Jawlensky executed the ambitious project to open their own painting school in Munich which was short-lived. Kardovskij returned to Russia in 1900 to eventually become a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in 1907. Grabar returned to Russia in 1903 to became director of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. Jawlensky, remaining in Munich, was painting still lifes and looking for color harmonies.

Painter Dmitri Nikolayevich Kardovsky, Marianne von Werefkin, Igor Grabar, and Jawlensky in 1900.

Alexei von Jawlensky, Stillleben mit Samowar (Still life with a samovar), 1901.

Jawlensky visited Russia in 1901 with Marianne von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff. They visited the Ansbaki estate in the Vitebsk governorate (modern Belarus). When Jawlensky fell ill possibly with typhus, he recovered at the Black Sea with Marianne von Werefkin. There he met Kardovskij and his wife, Olga Lyudvigovna Della-Vos-Kardovskaya (1875-1952), a painter who studied at Anton Ažbe’s in Munich in 1898 and 1899.

Olga Lyudvigovna Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, Self portrait, 1917.

The following year, in January 1902, a son, Andreas, was born to Jawlensky and Hélène Nesnakomoff. Jawlensky was continuing to paint still lifes and figural pictures, some of which were influenced by Swedish artist, Anders Zorn (1860-1920). Jawlensky’s pictures featured as models Hélène and her sister, Maria, after she arrived to Munich in November 1902 to aid the new parents. In a visit in 1902, Prussian-born artist Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) advised Jawlensky to send a painting to the Berlin Secession. Jawlensky did so and it was exhibited.

Anders Zorn (1860-1920), Self portrait, 1896.

Lovis Corinth (1858-1925), Self-portrait with Skeleton, 1896, Lenbachaus, Munich. Corinth is a leading figure painter marked by draftsmanship and brushwork. Like Jawlensky, Corinth pursued his artistic training throughout Europe, including in Munich and Paris, and settled permanently in Berlin in 1902. (https://www.kimbellart.org/collection/ap-201701.)

Jawlensky, Hyazinthentöpfe (Haycinth-pots), oil on canvas, 1902. (https://www.artsy.net/artwork/alexej-von-jawlensky-jacinthes

Jawlensky, Stillleben mit orangen (Still Life with Oranges), 1902, oil on canvas.

Jawlensky, Cottage in the Woods, 1903.

Between 1903 and 1907, with Munich as his base, Jawlensky spent much time in France, including in Paris, Brittany and Normandy. In 1903, as Marianne von Werefkin and Georgian artist Alexander Salzmann (1874-1934) traveled in Normandy, Jawlensky was in Paris where he was fascinated with the color and texture of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). That same year, in Munich, Jawlensky attended lectures on aesthetics by Theodor Lipps and met the young, eccentric Austrian printmaker Alfred Kubin (1877-1959). Lipps’ theory of aesthetics involved the overlap of psychology and philosophy creating a framework for the concept of Einfühlung (“empathy”) which, defined as “projecting oneself onto the object of perception,” became a key component of Expressionism.5

In 1904, an over-worked Kubin married Hedwig Gründler, an older widow. In early 1906 Jawlensky painted her portrait in his Munich apartment before the Kubins left Munich to live in Austria. In the 23 x 30 inch, oil-on-cardboard portrait, Jawlensky’s colors and modeling of the face showed the influences of French Impressionism and emergent Fauvism.

Jawlensky, writing after his visit to France in 1903. (Dube, p.114).

Jawlensky, Porträt Hedwig Kubin (Portrait of Hedwig Kubin), 1906, oil on cardboard.

Jawlensky stayed in Reichertshausen in the summer of 1904. A woody hamlet 15 miles east of Heidelburg, Jawlensky painted a series of landscapes. In 1905 he followed up with a series of landscapes at Füssen. Jawlensky made friends with Wladimir Bechtejeff (1878-1971), a young Russian painter who relocated to Munich in 1904 in admiration of Jawlensky. Like the older artist, Bechtejeff stayed in Munich until 1914. When Jawlensky visited the 38-year-old German composer Felix vom Rath (1866-1905), son of a wealthy industrialist, Jawlensky saw for the first time at his home a painting by Paul Gauguin (Riders on the Beach of Tahiti, 1902, Essen). At Vom Rath’s home, Jawlensky also met pianist Anna Langenhan-Hirzel (1874-1951).7

Gauguin, Riders on the Beach, 1902, Essen. Jawlensky saw this, his first Gauguin, in a private collection in Germany in 1904.

Jawlensky, Selbstbildnis mit Zylinder (Self-portrait with a top hat), 1904, private collection.

Jawlensky, Hélène im spanischen Kostüm (Hélène in Spanish costume), 1904, Wiesbaden.

Jawlensky, Stilleben mit Weinflasche, 1904.

Jawlensky, Marianne von Werfekin, 1905, Switzerland.

Jawlensky, Portrait de Madame Sid, 1905.

Jawlensky, The Hunchback, 1905.

The middle years of the first decade of the 20th century—1905, 1906 and 1907—were key to Jawlensky’s artistic development. It is likely that Jawlensky traveled to France in 1905. He exhibited six paintings in the Paris Salone d’Automne in 1905, the exhibition which gave birth to the Fauves.

In January 1906 Jawlensky returned to St. Petersburg to exhibit nine paintings. As evidenced in his correspondence, he traveled to France in 1906. He visited Paris and Carantec in Brittany which was a region where Gauguin had worked. That same year Jawlensky exhibited ten paintings at the Paris Salone d’Automne in the newly-formed Russian Pavilion organized by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). At the salon, either in 1905 or 1906, Jawlensky met Henri Matisse (1869-1954) whose Fauvist artwork Jawlensky unreservedly admired. During Jawlensky’s visit to France in 1906 he also met Russian painter Elisabeth Ivanowna Epstein (1879-1956) and studied the artwork of Gauguin, Paul Cézanne (who died in October 1906), and Maurice de Vlaminck (1872-1958). Over the next couple of years, Jawlensky wrestled with Cézanne’s influence on his art.8

Jawlensky, writing after his visit to France in 1905 or 1906.

Jawlensky, Stillleben mit Blumen und Früchten, c. 1905.

Jawlensky, Bretonische Bäuerin, 1905.

In 1905 and 1906 Jawlensky painted landscapes and character studies, mainly heads. Following the 1906 exhibition in Paris Jawlensky traveled to the Mediterranean resort town of Sausset-les-Pins outside of Marseilles to continue to paint landscapes. Jawlensky returned to Munich by way of Geneva where he visited Swiss Symbolist artist, Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918).

Ferdinand Hodler, Self Portrait, 1900.

Jawlensky, Self portrait, 1905.

Jawlensky spent the fall of 1906, as evidenced in correspondence, in Wasserburg am Inn outside of Munich. He painted landscapes and portraits.

The next year, in 1907, he returned to Wasserburg for a shorter stay with his 5-year-old son, Andreas. In fall 1907 he went to Paris with Hélène Nesnakomoff and Andreas to view the Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne. He also visited at Matisse’s studio. Near Marseilles to paint landscapes alone afterwards, Jawlensky believed that he achieved his primary goal to use color that was autonomous from the object and based on the artist’s inner feeling. This was a major breakthrough for his painting. Jawlensky’s Mittelmeerkűste (Mediterranean Coast) (below) became the result of these searches and his talisman for landscapes going forward.9

Jawlensky, Mittelmeerkűste (Mediterranean Coast), 1907, oil on hardboard, Munich.

Jawlensky, Wasserburg am Inn, 1907, oil on board.

Jawlensky, Wasserburg am Inn (Melancholy in the Evening), 1907, oil on cardboard.

The landscape Wasserburg am Inn (Melancholy in the Evening) provides insight into Jawlensky’s artistic development at this time. Painted at Wasserburg Am Inn outside Munich in 1907, Jawlensky experimented with applying the techniques of French post-Impressionism, especially Van Gogh, Gauguin and Henri Matisse. The painting and others in this period express Jawlensky’s goal of making unnatural color harmonies and giving visual form to the artist’s inner nature or spirituality. In the manner of Van Gogh, Jawlensky used chisel-like brush strokes and, like Gauguin, thick outlining to achieve a rhythmic, flat, two-dimensional landscape.

Following these travels to Wasserburg am Inn, Paris and Marseilles in 1907, Jawlensky was back in Munich at Christmas and met Dutch Symbolist artist Jan Verkade (1868-1946) in January 1908. Verkade was a Dutch post-Impressionist and Symbolist painter who was a member of the French Nabis under Gauguin in Brittany. Verkade taught Jawlensky and Marianne Weferkin about Gauguin’s ideas on Synthetism. A convert to Catholicism in the mid1890s, Verkade became a Benedictine monk and priest and lived at a monastery in nearby Beuron. In 1907 and 1908 Verkade stayed in Munich and at times painted in Jawlensky’s studio. Jawlensky also learned from Verkade about the writings of French theosophist Edouard Schuré (1841-1929) who influenced the Nabis’ art. In 1908 Jawlensky met Paul Sérusier (1864-1927) who painted The Talisman, an icon to Gauguin’s ideas of Synthetism. 10

Jan Verkade, Self-portrait, 1891.

Paul Sérusier, The Talisman, 1888, Musée D’Orsay.

In Munich in 1908 Jawlensky met other significant figures for his art, including the acquaintance of German painter Karl Caspar (1879-1956) and 22-year-old Alexander Sacharoff (1886-1963). Sacharoff was one of Europe’s most innovative solo dancers. Jawlensky formed a lifelong friendship with Sacharoff and painted his portrait several times between 1909 and 1913. Jawlensky’s 1909 portrait of Sacharoff was painted spontaneously one evening when Sacharoff arrived to Jawlensky’s studio before a performance. In his full theater costume, Jawlensky’s portrait of Sacharoff is notable in that it was one of the first examples of the painter’s motif of wide, piercing eyes.11

Jawlensky, Alexander Sacharoff, 1909.

Jawlensky, Girl with Peonies, 1909. Von der Hevdt Museum.

Vincent Van Gogh, La Maison du père Pilon, 49 × 70 cm, May 1890.

In 1908, with the help of Theo van Gogh’s widow, Jawlensky acquired a Van Gogh painting, La maison du Père Pilon. Jawlensky spent the next three summers—in 1908, 1909 and 1910—in southern Bavaria at Murnau am Staffelsee with Hélène Nesnakomoff, Andreas, Marianne von Werefkin, Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter (1877-1962).

In 1909 Jawlensky met Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Baltic German painter Ida Kerkovius (1879-1970), and German Expressionist painters Erma Barrera-Bossi (1875-1952) and August Macke (1887-1914). These were all notable figures to the formation of avant-garde expressionism. Jawlensky also met the Ukrainian brothers and avant-garde artists David Burliuk (1882-1967) and Wladimir Burliuk (1886-1917).

Jawlensky’s summer visits to Murnau led to significant development in his painting, This was especially true for his large format portraits. In 1909, his Murnau landscape is a highly stylized reduction of the subject of mountains, trees, and pathway into flat, geometrical forms and harsh, contrasting and unnatural colors influenced by French Cloisonnism and French Cubism. The painting, Murnau landscape, is another example of Gauguin-inspired Synthetism with its high degree of stylization and artificial bright colors. Some of the experimental nature of the painting is indicated by the color samples in the lower righthand corner of the painting.

Jawlensky, Murnauer Landschaft, (Murnau landscape), 1909, oil on cardboard.

It was Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter who discovered Murnau in the spring of 1908 on a bicycle tour. They told Jawlensky about it who visited that summer with Marianne von Werfekin and wrote to Kandinsky to join them. In 1909 Münter and Kandinsky bought a house in Murnau which they called “The Russia House.” The importance of the Bavarian landscape as an inspiration to these artists’ work cannot be underestimated. The Murnau years of 1908 to 1910 was the start and bonding of artists that evolved in 1911 to the formation of The Blue Rider. In 1908 it was Jawlensky’s sharing of his new ideas gained from his visits to France that made him the progressive leader of the group in this period. Accompanied by Marianne von Werfekin, Jawlensky returned to this market town several times where he stayed at Gasthof Griesbräu.12

Jawlensky, Vue de Murnau, c. 1908–1910.

Jawlensky, Skizze aus Murnau (Murnau Sketch), 1908-09, oil on cardboard, Lenbachhaus.

Jawlensky, Weisse Wolke (White Cloud), summer 1909, oil on textured cardboard mounted, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

Jawlensky, Kiefer (Pine Tree), summer 1909, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

Jawlensky, Sommerabend in Murnau (Summer Evening in Murnau), 1908-09, oil on cardboard, Lenbachhaus.

The painting Summer Evening in Murnau is marked by intense colors, dark contours, simple drawing, and a reduction of form reflecting Jawlensky’s understanding of Gauguin’s “Synthetism.” Sérusier had observed that “art is above all a means of expression.” Within the embryonic Blue Rider group of artists before 1911, Gauguin’s “Synthetism” meshed to Wassily Kandinsky’s idea of “inner necessity.” Intense colors and imaginary reduction of forms that marks German Expressionism had its nascent development in Jawlensky’s paintings at Murnau.13

In March 1909 Jawlensky co-founded Neue Künstlervereinigung München (“New Munich Artists”), an exhibition organization to counteract the inability of official academic art to accommodate avant-garde practice in a new century and counteract the Munich Secession, one of the oldest breakaway modern art groups founded in 1892. Before the first NKVM exhibition in Munich in December 1909, Jawlensky, Kandinsky and other artists resigned from the Munich Secession.14

In 1909 Jawlensky. Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, and art historian Oskar Wittenstein and Heinrich Schnabel elected Kandinsky as NKVM president and Jawlensky as vice-president. German magic realist painter Alexander Kanoldt (1881–1939) was appointed secretary and German painter Adolph Erbslöh (1881–1947) was made chairperson of the association’s exhibition committee. German painter and printmaker Paul Baum (1859-1932) joined as did Russian painter Wladimir Bechtejeff (1878-1971), and German painters Erma Barrera-Bossi (1875-1952) and Carl Hofer (1878-1955). Alexander Sacharoff, Austrian Symbolist printmaker Alfred Kubin, and East European artist Moissey Kogan (1879-1943) soon joined this German avant-garde secession.

The NKVM hosted, in Munich, three annual exhibitions—in 1909, 1910, and 1911. These Munich shows then traveled around Germany. On December 1, 1909 the first New Munich Artists (NKVM) show opened at the Neue Galerie Thannhauser. It included ten painters, one sculptor, one printmaker and other invited artists. Though half of the exhibitors were Russians, these visual artists showed no similarity in style.15 The first show traveled to Brünn, Elberfeld, Barmen, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Wiesbaden, Schwerin, and Frankfurt am Main. It was greeted almost universally with jeers by the public. The critics called it a “carnival hoax” and saw their art as evocative of bad French Impressionism.16

Designed by Kandinsky, the poster advertising for the first exhibition by the Neue Künstlervereinigung München, December 1909. Lenbachhaus, Munich.

The pamphlet for the foundation of the artist association stated, “Our starting point is the idea that the artist not only receives new impressions from the world outside from nature, but that he also gathers experiences in an inner world. And indeed, it seems to us that at the moment more artists are again spiritually united in their search for artistic forms. They are looking for forms that will express the mutual interdependence of all these experiences and which are free from everything irrelevant. The aim is that only those elements which are actually necessary should be expressed with emphasis. In other words, they are striving for an artistic synthesis This seems to us a solution that is once again uniting in spirit an increasing number of artists.”17

Jawlensky, Schwebende Wolke (Floating Cloud), 1909-10, oil on cardboard, 32.9 x 40.8 cm, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

In 1909 and 1910, working in Murnau am Staffelsee, Alexei Jawlensky took outings into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps to paint. It was a manageable walk for the 45-year-old artist into surrounding mountains and woods. Floating Cloud is one painting that is part of a group of artworks from this period that evokes mountains, clouds and trees. The painting is undated so there is no irrefutable proof it was painted in 1910 — Jawlensky’s final summer stay in Murnau — but its varied and discordant colors and tendency to synthetic composition points to having been created in 1910 or summer 1909.

Its foreground green, dark trees, pink clouds, and orange sky are formal elements found in landscapes from the period. The painting had been later discarded by the artist though under exactly what circumstances is unclear. When World War I began in August 1914, Russian-émigré Jawlensky had to leave works behind in Munich to be retrieved in 1921 and 1922. Floating Cloud was brought to the United States in 1924 by its owner, Galka Scheyer (1889-1945). Jawlensky began his series of monumental heads by 1910 that defined his artwork in the years ahead.

In Floating Cloud, shapes are precisely delineated; the chain of the pine trees’ triangular forms are echoed in the repetition of the mountain chain’s pointed shapes in the background. The clearly defined planes of foreground, middle distance, and background are parallel to the picture plane but compressed into a narrowed, stage-like area. Jawlensky also began many figural drawings of the female nude in 1910 though he did not use them for paintings much. Its formal properties as well as subject is similar to paintings of Henri Matisse in this time period.18

Jawlensky, Sitzender Weiblicher Akt (Seated female nude), c. 1910 oil on cardboard.

Jawlensky, Girl with the Green Face, 1910, oil on hardboard, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Meanwhile Kandinsky’s Blue Mountain in 1908-1909 continued to demonstrate his direction towards abstraction. In the picture, a blue mountain has a yellow and a red tree on each side of it. A procession of human figures and horses crosses in the foreground. Their faces, clothing, and saddles are composed of bold colors, with little linear detail. The flat, contoured colored shapes indicate French Fauvist influences.

Kandinsky, Der Blaue Berg (Blue Mountain), 1908-1909, Guggenheim, New York.

Kandinsky, 1908, oil on card, Murnau, Landschaft mit Turm (Murnau Landscape with Tower Centre), Pompidou, Paris.

Floating Cloud was exhibited by Jawlensky, along with ten other of his paintings, in the important second exhibition of the New Artists’ Association which opened in September 1910 at the Neue Galerie Thannhauser. In that second show, Jawlensky also exhibited Child with Doll (Kind mit Puppe). In that painting, the sitter was a local school girl in Murnau. In 1912 Jawlensky returned to the subject of a girl with doll and gave one such picture to Franz Marc.19

Jawlensky, Kind mit Puppe (Child with Doll), c. 1910, oil on paper mounted on cardboard, Norton Simon.

Heinrich Thannhauser (1859-1934) opened his gallery in Munich in 1904. In 1908 it hosted an important exhibition of over ninety works by Vincent van Gogh. The Neue Galerie Thannhauser became the leading proponent of international modern art in Germany in the 1910’s exhibiting French Impressionist and post-Impressionist art as well as German and other international modern artists. Designed by Paul Wenz in the glass-domed Arcopalais developed by Georg Meister and Oswald Bieber at Theatinerstraße 7 in the heart of Munich’s shopping district, several rooms of the Neue Galerie Thannhauser were set up as fashionable domestic environments. With Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc in December 1911, Thannhauser organized the first exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter.

Lovis Corinth, Portrait of the Art Dealer Heinrich Thannhauser, 1918, Kimbell.

The second NKVM exhibition is important in that it was the world’s first modern art exhibition that assembled an estimable scope of international artists represented by Germans, French, Russians, and others.

The second exhibition expanded to include French Cubists, including Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Postimpressionists, and Fauvists, such as Henri Le Fauconnier, Andre Dérain, Maurice Vlaminck, and Kees van Dongen.20 The historic showing at the Neue Galerie Thannhauser afterwards traveled to Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Hagen, Paul Cassirer Berlin, Leipzig, Galerie Arnold Dresden, Munich Weimar, and the Neue Secession Berlin. The exhibition was the precursor of future great international shows such as the Cologne Sonderbund in 1912 and New York Armory Show in 1913. The Armory Show, in which Neue Galerie Thannhauser participated, introduced European Modernism to the United States.

The Munich gallery occupied over 2,600 square feet of the glass-domed Arcopalais and was divided between two floors. Nine exhibition rooms were on the ground floor with a skylit gallery on the floor above. Similar to the first NKVM exhibition, the Munich public derided the offerings of the second. The German press called for its closure as the artists were “anarchists.” A small group of sympathizers gathered to support the avant-garde exhibitions including other modern artists and some German curators, one of whom was afterwards dismissed from his official curatorial posts because he espoused contemporary nonacademic views.21

Picasso, Head of a Woman, spring 1909, gouache, watercolor, and black and ochre chalks, manipulated with stump and wet brush, on cream laid paper. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Gabriele Münter, Landschaft mit weisser mauer (Landscape with a White Wall), 1910, oil on hardboard, Hagen.

The second exhibition catalog had five articles and was illustrated by Picasso’s Head of a Woman. In addition to Jawlensky’s 11 art works, Gabriele Münter exhibited 7 art works, including Landscape with White Wall from 1910. Kandinsky had carefully defined his different categories for a painting—an impression; an improvisation; and a composition.22 Kandinsky exhibited examples of all three at the second NKVM show in September 1910, including Composition no.2 of early 1910 and Improvisation no.12-The Rider painted in summer 1910.

Kandinsky, Improvisation no. 12 The Rider, summer of 1910.

Karl Ernst Osthaus (1874–1921), an important German patron of European avant-garde art, founded the Folkwang Museum at Hagen, Germany, in 1902. Following the second New Artists’ Association exhibition, Osthaus organized an even larger exhibition of Expressionist painting with works by Jawlensky and Kandinsky.

Ida Gerhadi, Portrait of Karl Ernst Osthaus, 1903.

By 1910, with 20 years of art practice, Jawlensky had built up and continued to expand his circle of collectors. His friendship with Cuno Amiet (1868-1961), a pioneer of modern art in Switzerland, likely started in 1909. In Still Life with Vase in 1909 Jawlensky painted in simplified forms, vivid colors, and decorative lines, following the example of Henri Matisse.23 From 1906 to 1911, Jawlensky’s still lifes were influenced by Matisse who Jawlensky met in Paris. In 1909 and 1910 Jawlensky painted still lifes that are among his finest works. Starting in 1911, Jawlensky focused increasingly on the human face. Regarding his still lifes, Jawlensky observed that he was not searching for a material object, but by way of form and color, “want[ing] to express an inner vibration.”24

Jawlensky, Stilleben mit Vase und Krug (Still Life with Vase and Jug), 1909, oil on Hardboard, Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

Jawlensky, Stilleben mit Früchten, (Still Life with Fruit), c. 1910, oil on cardboard.

In late 1909 and into early 1910 Marianne von Werefkin visited family in Lithuania. Since the early 1890’s, Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin were a pioneering artist couple of the avant-garde. With the founding of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München in 1909, from which The Blue Rider emerged in 1911, individually and as a couple they advanced modernism as a conceptual and creative force making a significant contribution to early 20th century modern art. Each had found the other’s soulmate in which their interpersonal relationship was intense and complex. Lily Klee (1876-1946), wife of painter Paul Klee, wrote in her memoirs that Jawlensky and von Werfekin were “no marriage” but rather “an erotically platonic friendship love.” Though their domestic partnership ended, they remained loyal partners and art colleagues. A wealthy, Russian aristocrat, Von Werfekin was, as a painter and knowledgeable supporter of their theories and ideas, an influential force in the NVKM and Blaue Reiter that benefitted these progressive artists’ work.25

Marianne von Werefkin, Selbstbildnis I (Self portrait I), , c. 1910, tempera on paper on hardboard, Städtische Galerie am Lenbachhaus Munich.

In 1910, Jawlensky met German painter and printmaker Franz Marc (1880-1916) and, in 1911, after seeing the second exhibition of the Neue Künstlervereinigung, Marc joined NKVM. Pierre Girieud and Henri Le Fauconnier also joined. That same year Kandinsky, Marc, and others in the NKVM resigned and founded Der Blaue Reiter.

The approach of Le Fauconnier’s painting influenced by Gauguin and Emile Bernard greatly influenced Jawlensky’s work in this period. Kandinsky’s mediation led to Jawlensky exhibiting 6 paintings in Vladimir Izdebsky’s salon in Odessa and Kiev from December 1909 to February 1910 and again in Odessa at the same venue in December 1910. Jawlensky also exhibited at the Sonderbund Westdeutscher Künstler in Düsseldorf. In 1911 Jawlensky visited Franz Marc in Sindelsdorf, south of Munich and spent that summer with his family and Marianne von Werefkin in far northern Germany. At Prerow on the Baltic Sea he painted landscapes and large figural works in bright strong colors. The artist considered his time at Prerow as “a turning point in my art.”

Jawlensky, Blonde, c. 1911, oil on carboard. The time Jawlensky spent in the summer of 1911 on the Baltic coast was a turning point in his art.

Jawlensky, Blühendes Mädchen (Blossoming Girl), c.1911. Norton Simon. The precise date and the sitter are unknown, and the work was titled much later and not by Jawlensky.

Jawlensky, Turandot I, 1912, Privatsammlung.

In Fall 1911 Jawlensky traveled to Paris with von Werefkin where he saw Matisse, visited with Pierre Paul Girieud (1875-1940) and met Kees van Dongen (1877-1968). Later that year Girieud stayed with Jawlensky in Munich where Heinrich Campendonk (1889-1957) visited him in the studio in November. In December 1911 Kandinsky, Marc, Münter, Kubin and Macke resigned from the Neue Künstlervereinigung and Kandinsky and Marc founded Der Blaue Reiter.

The fault line between NKVM and The Blue Rider was over the degree of artistic importance of representation (Kanoldt and Erbslöh) versus nonrepresentation (Kandinsky, Marc, Kubin, Münter) in avant-garde German expressionism. The resignations came after Kandinsky and Marc had forcefully advocated for a jury show and, then, having overcome some other members’ intractable resistance, one of Kandinsky’s large format pictures was rejected by the jury for the 1911 NKVM show.26

Adolf Erbslöh, Mädchen mit rotem Rock (Girl with Red skirt), 1910, Von der Heydt Museum.

Alexander Kanoldt, Nikolaiplatz, 1910-13.

Jawlensky, Yellow Houses, 1909.

Kandinsky in 1910 produced the first painting, a watercolor, that was completely nonrepresentational—Untitled in the collection of the Pompidou in Paris. In late 1911 Kandinsky, seeing his painting as a triumph of art over the external object, published his art theories in a major treatise entitled Über das Geistige in der Kunst (“On the Spiritual in Art”). Kandinsky, who was informed on European modern art currents, synthesized and personalized ideas that were broadly available at the turn of the 20th century—one, that there is an order of pre-eminent human experiences; second, that all artworks possess spiritual or expressive qualities to be researched, expanded to the sensory faculties and refined to and superseded by physical and psychological effects; and, third, that the essential nature of art makes it autonomous of naturalistic external appearances.

Modern, specifically abstract, art, through the artist’s practice of relaying his emotive and spiritual qualities can, within the broad engagement of culture as well as art that possesses an autonomous spiritual-expressionist nature, can become a barometer for social progress and gauge the spirit of the age.

Since art is the embodiment of spirit or expression, Kandinsky postulated no specific formal or stylistic language—form is meaningless apart from the expression, the making visible, of the artist’s inner reality. This is true for the “great” avenues of realism or abstraction. The immediate use of Cubist and Futurist forms dematerialized further into a spiritual significance of colors and nonrepresentational forms in Abstract Expressionism.27

The third and final NKVM show was held in December 1911 at Neue Galerie Thannhauser. It featured 58 paintings and 8 illustrations by eight of the original and early member artists, namely, Jawlensky, Adolf Erbslöh, Alexander Kanoldt, Erma Barrera-Bossi, Wladimir von Bechtejeff, Moissey Kogan, Pierre Girieud and Marianne von Werefkin. It was hardly mentioned in the German press.

The show closed on January 12, 1912 and likely did not travel though scheduled to do so. In the same month of December 1911 and in the same gallery Der Blaue Reiter hosted its first exhibition. Though Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin sympathized with Kandinsky and der Blaue Reiter, they did not follow into the group until 1912.

Neither did Jawlensky follow Kandinsky into nonrepresentational abstract art. He continued with representational motifs. Jawlensky was more concerned with synthesis—a term and practice with a broad, diverse, and even contradictory definition. For Jawlensky, synthesis occurred between impressions of the outer world and experiences of the artist’s inner world. In terms of his art, it involved the “outer” object and “inner” expressive, unnatural colors. It involved the “outer” pictorial composition and “inner” colors and forms, with these categorical elements being fluid in terms of their opposition.

Kandinsky, Untitled, 1910, watercolor, Indian Ink and pencil on paper. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Reputedly the first nonrepresentational (abstract) painting.

Franz Marc, Pferd in Landschaft (Horse in a Landscape), 1910, oil on canvas, Folkwang Museum, Essen.

Jawlensky, Hügel (Hills), 1912, oil on hardboard, Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund.

Jawlensky, Landschaft mit gelbem Schornstein (Blue mountains landscape with yellow chimney), 1912, Museum Wiesbaden.

Jawlensky, Jünglingskopf (Head of a Young Man, called Hercules), 1912, oil on hardboard, Dortmund.

Kandinsky, Der Blaue Rider (The Blue Rider), 1903, private collection.

NOTES

1. German Unification – Confronting Identities in German Art: Myth, Reactions, Reflections, Smart Museum, Chicago, 2002, pamphlet.

2. World War I casualties- http://www.centre-robert-schuman.org/userfiles/files/REPERES%20%E2%80%93%20module%201-1-1%20-%20explanatory%20notes%20%E2%80%93%20World%20War%20I%20casualties%20%E2%80%93%20EN.pdf

3. Idea of German art–https://www.britannica.com/place/Torzhok

4. Ažbe Quote- Boehmer, Konrad, Schonberg and Kandinsky: An Historic Encounter (Contemporary Music Studies), Routledge, 1998, p. 209.

5. matriculated at von Stuck’s- Watson, Peter, The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, HarperCollins, 2010, p. 515.

6. Trip to Paris and Brittany– Clemens Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads, Faces, Meditations, Pall Mall Press, 1971.; Theodor Lipps– Encyclopedia Britannica.

7. Hedwig Kubin—Hoberg, Annegret, The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus, Munich, Prestel, Munich, 1989. Wladimir Bechtejeff —https://www.kreisbote.de/lokales/garmisch-partenkirchen/schlossmuseum-murnau-zeigt-bilder-wladimir-bechtejeff-9688996.html

8. Paris Salone d’Automne and Matisse- Donald Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions 1900-1916, Munich, 1974.

9. On Mediterranean Coast painting- Elger, Dietmar, Expressionism: A Revolution in German Art, Taschen, Cologne, Germany, 1998, p.166.

10. Melancholy in the evening –https://mfastpete.org/obj/wasserburg-on-the-inn-melancholy-in-the-evening/; Verkade- http://www.peterbrooke.org/art-and-religion/denis/intro/beuron.html

11. Sacharoff portrait—Hoberg, Blue Rider in Lenbachhaus.

12. Murnau art colony—Watson, German Genius, pp. 516-518; progressive artist- Hoberg, Blue Rider in Lenbachhaus; Barnett, Vivian Endicott, The Blue Four Collection at the Norton Simon Museum, 2002, p. 84.

13. Hoberg, Blue Rider in Lenbachhaus.

14. Selz, Peter, German Expressionist Painting, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1974. p.185.

15. ibid., p 186 and 191.

16. First NKVM exhibition travel cities– Hoberg, not paginated; carnival hoax—Selz, German Expressionist Painting, p. 191.

17. Elgar, Expressionism, p. 168; Selz, German Expressionist Painting, p 191; Watson, German Genius, p. 516.

18. Selz, p. 195; Barnett, p. 86.

19. Barnett, p. 90.

20. Hoberg (not paginated); Selz, p.193.

21. Selz, p. 196.

22. “An impression is a direct impression of nature, expressed in purely pictorial form. An improvisation is a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, non-material nature.  A composition is an expression of a slowly formed inner feeling, tested and worked over repeatedly and almost pedantically. Reason, conscious, purpose, play an overwhelming part. But of calculation nothing appears: only feeling…” Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, quoted in Selz, p.196.

23. Elgar, Expressionism, p. 169.

24. Hoberg, not paginated.

25. Elgar, Expressionism, p.177.

26. Selz, p. 197.

27. Harrison, Charles & Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford U.K. and Cambridge, MA, 2000, p 86); Chipp, Herschel B., Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1971, pp. 126-127; Kern, Stephen, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1983, p. 203).

Bibliography

Barnett, Vivian Endicott, The Blue Four Collection at the Norton Simon Museum, 2002.

Boyle, Nicholas, German Literature: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2008.

Chipp, Herschel B., Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1971.

Dube, Wolf-Dieter, Expressionism, Oxford University Press, New York and Toronto, 1972.

Elger, Dietmar, Expressionism: A Revolution in German Art, Taschen, Cologne, Germany, 1998.

Harrison, Charles & Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford U.K. and Cambridge, MA, 2000.

Hoberg, Annegret, The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus, Munich, Prestel, Munich, 1989.

Kern, Stephen, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1983.

Koldehoff, Stefan and Chris Stolwijk, editors, The Thannhauser Gallery: Marketing Van Gogh, Mercatorfonds, Brussels, 2018.

Selz, Peter, German Expressionist Painting, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1974.

Taylor, A.J.P., Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman, Vintage Books, New York, 1967 (originally 1955).

Watson, Peter, The German Genius : Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, HarperCollins, 2010.

https://www.academia.edu/44447406/ORIGINS_OF_GERMAN_EXPRESSIONIST_PAINTING_THE_EARLY_MODERN_ART_CAREER_OF_ALEXEI_VON_JAWLENSKY_1864_1941_RUSSIAN_%C3%89MIGR%C3%89_PAINTER_FROM_1889_TO_THE_BLUE_RIDER_IN_MUNICH_IN_1911

Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and the creation of his mysterious she-wolf figure of “Oviri (Savage)” and its exhibition in Paris in 1895.

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

By John P. Walsh

By 1887 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.

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

Gauguin made a large ceramic of Oviri (fig. 13) 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.

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

3 Symbolist Monotypes produced by Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) in Paris inspired by his first trip to Tahiti in 1891-1893 — “Tahitians Fishing,” “Tahitian Landscape,” and “Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina.”

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

By John P. Walsh

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.
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PAUL GAUGUIN, Tahitian Woman, 1894?, irregularly shaped; charcoal and pastel, selectively stumped, and worked with brush and water on wove “pasted” paper, glued to secondary support of yellow wove paper mounted on gray millboard. The Brooklyn Museum. A pastel where Gauguin subverted the medium.
young-christian-girl
PAUL GAUGUIN The Young Christian Girl, 15 3/8 x 18 inches, oil on canvas, Clark Institute Art Institute, Massachusetts. Gauguin painted this work in Northern France fusing imagery from his recent experiences in Tahiti. She is shown in a dress similar to those brought by Christian missionaries to the South Sea Islands.

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 And His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work In Paris, 1893-1895.

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  

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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.

GAUGUIN DR 001FIXED
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.
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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.  

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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

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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

Eluding “Terrible Monsieur Degas”: Gustave Caillebotte’s Retro-Style Vision for the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition of 1882.

By John P. Walsh

The Third Impressionist Exhibition held in April 1877 is known as “Caillebotte’s Exhibition.” It is the highlight of the eight Impressionist exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886.

While scholars agree that the Third Impressionist Exhibition was in every sense “glorious,” the show’s first euphoria was short lived.  Two weeks after the show closed, as hope for picture sales was high, there was a Constitutional crisis in the French government. This political turmoil resulted in the consolidation of Republican power against Royalists which led to a severe national economic recession. The Impressionist group, conceived and carefully built to a unity by Gustave Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as the artists jostled to survive in a receding financial tide.

Gustave Caillebotte’s efforts for a fourth impressionist exhibition in 1878 were stymied. The next exhibitions would be under Degas’s rule. In 1879 Degas would exclude Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Alfred Sisley and, in 1880, Claude Monet. The irony of the intramural politics that created these developments was not lost on Caillebotte. 

For the April 1877 Third Impressionist Exhibition Caillebotte built the group’s brand largely on  “broken brush” impressionists. For the next three impressionist shows in 1879, 1880 and 1881, he worked with Edgar Degas and an artistic coterie that effectively excluded the broken brush contingent. It was prior to the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881, that Caillebotte finally departed the Degas-led organization, citing a managerial difference on an advertising issue.

Caillebotte’s withdrawal from arts organization was a short one.

The 32-year-old Caillebotte led the offensive for a retro-style vision for the next impressionist exhibition in 1882. With his emerging partner — 51-year-old Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) — Caillebotte promoted his vision.

But the changing art market in the 1870’s had taken a financial toll on the art dealer. Durand-Ruel had to re-tool his business plan to focus not on large-scale group shows but small shows of individual artists. Overall the French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—which Durand-Ruel believed was an attempt by his critics to discredit him as an art dealer—the well-stocked Impressionist art dealer reluctantly agreed to go forward with Caillebotte’s exhibition plan for 1882 which the artist-art show organizer had crafted to likely realize a small profit.

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P.A.-Renoir, A Luncheon at Bougival, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Caillebotte’s main hook was to re-integrate the excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt stayed away from this Seventh Impressionist exhibition though Paul Gauguin was represented. Also missing was the artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, who was off experimenting in the south of France. Cézanne would not be seen again in a Paris art show until 1895 when a huge body of his work was featured in an exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery.

Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent 24 new works, including his iconic large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival). Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, the seventh show hailed a triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. Camille Pissarro displayed several paintings of peasant girls. His tiny pseudo-pointillist brushstrokes overlaid now and then with dabs of thicker paint, built up an uneven surface that integrated the figure and background and worked to visually mimic the textures of the sitter’s wool clothing.

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Caillebotte, Rising Road (Chemin Montant). 1881.

Caillebotte sent 17 works to the show. The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue) painted in 1880, was joined by Rising Road (Chemin Montant) painted in 1881. This latter work’s path hardly rises—a feature that contributed to the canvas’s mystery. The question was asked whether it was a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics in 1876 when they saw it in The Floor Scrapers.

Rising Road is painted with a free handling of colors in the loose brushwork style of Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte made. One critic poked fun at the painting’s mysterious pair as viewers wondered with him who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” ? Their identities and location are uncertain although speculation has put Caillebotte in the painting with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier.

Rising Road (Chemin Montant) has had only two owners since 1881. It sold in 2003 for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) at Christie’s in New York City,

Gustave Caillebotte, Balcon (Balcony), 1880, oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 24 in. (68 x 61 cm). Private Collection, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Paul Gauguin, A la Fenêtre, nature morte (At the Window, Still Life),1881, oil on canvas, 7.5 x 10.625 in (19 x 27 cm), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Jean-Baptiste-Armand Guillaumin, Paysage (fin octobre) (Landscape, End of October), c, 1876, oil on canvas, 17 7/8 x 48 1/8 in. (180 x 123 cm), Nasjonalgallereit, Oslo. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Claude Monet, Soleil couchant, sur la Seine, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine, Winter Effect), 1880, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 59 7/8 (100 x 152 cm), Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Camille Pissarro, Jeune paysanne prenant son café, (Young Peasant Woman Drinking Her Coffee), 1881, oil on canvas, 65.3 × 54.8 cm (25 11/16 × 21 9/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jongleuses au Cirque Fernando, (Jugglers/acrobats at the Cirque Fernando), 1879, oil on canvas, 131.2 × 99.2 cm (51 ½ × 39 1/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Alfred Sisley, Saint-Mammès, temps gris (Saint-Mammès, Cloudy Weather), c. 1880, oil on canvas, 21 5/8 x 29 1/8 in. (54.8 x 74 cm), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

SOURCES: Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4181485