AnnotatedBibliography: Primitivism in Gauguin’s Art
Gauguin is one of the most recognized French painters from the 19thcentury. The artist who began his works as an impressionist developedhis own unique style of painting called primitivism. The termprimitivism has been applied to refer to the painter’s fondness ofthe Martinique and the Tahitian culture, tradition and evenlandscapes that form a significant subject of his works. His interestin the Tahitian culture and way of life came about after relocatingto the French colony temporarily. He became immersed in the localculture and way of life which by European standards at that time wasconsidered primitive. The Tahitian and Martinique dhows, culture, anddecorative ornaments that Gauguin presented in some of his works wereperceived to be basic by Europeans and thus his style was labeledprimitive hence the term primitivism. To some critics, Gauguinattempted to bridge the much advanced western civilization with theuncivilized traditions of Tahiti as a French colony and Martinique.His works have been addressed by art critics in an attempt to map outhis thought processes, motivations and intentions in bringing outsuch elements in his works. Some critics attempt to map out thereligious influences in his work which combines the Tahitiantraditional religions and other religions he had encountered inFrance while others look for deeper meanings. In addition to that,his use of color in his paintings has aroused much interestespecially in comparison to other painters of his time. Therefore,Gauguin and his unique primitivism style of painting make a veryinteresting study subject that has been adequately addressed byvarious scholars and critics with substantially different findingsand conclusions.
Sutton, Denys, ‘ThePaul Gauguin exhibition”, The Burlington Magazine 91, no.559 (Oct.,
The article presents a simple explanation of the major factor thatdrove Gauguin towards primitivism through the correspondence theory.The author argues that Gauguin’s experience with the Tahitianreligion, culture and mythology motivated him to present this‘reality’ as he perceived it. Whether what is presented of theprimitive culture is true or false depends on the factual reality.This article thus provides a means through which the subjects of theprimitivism presented in the artists can be challenged or accepted asa true reference to Tahitian culture as the author notes that thepainter is accused of being obsessed with himself.
Richardson, John,“Gauguin at Chicago and New York”, The Burlington Magazine101, no. 674
(May, 1959), pp.188+190-192.
The article by Johnson examines the presentation of Gauguin’s workin two exhibitions. The author critique’s how the work of thepainter was presented and how his style can be identified clearly. Hetraces his history briefly in Martinique and draws his audience tothe argument that the presentation of some of his works as depictingTahitian landscapes and culture in a primitive manner as misleading.He argues some aspects in some of his works such as “The Tahitian”captured Martinique and not Tahiti as the title implies. Nonetheless,Tahiti played a role in his primitivism style. Gauguin’s study inTahitian mythology and religion provided a rich subject matter forhis paintings. Again, the article argues that another pieceattributed to Gauguin fails to match with the painter’s style anduse of color. The article thus is a useful source that explains theinspiration behind Gauguin’s primitivism as well as his style.
Daneilsson, Bengt,“Gauguin`s Tahitian Titles”, The Burlington Magazine 109,no. 769 (Apr.,
Gauguin’s fascination with primitive culture and religion of aprimitive people of Tahiti did not stop at the paintings. The authorof this article indicates that Gauguin also used the primitivelanguage of Tahitian to label his paintings. As a French-speakingperson, his grasp of the local Tahitian language was basic and assuch he made some errors in the grammar rules of the language.Consequently, this has presented numerous problems to researcherskeen to translate the titles of his work today. Simply put, Gauguin’sstyle of primitivism was not limited to the subjects of his paintingsbut also to the titles.
Buser, Thomas,“Gauguin`s Religion”, Art Journal 27, no. 4 (1968):375-380.
Although primitive Tahitian mythology and culture are attributed toinfluence Gauguin works in other sources, Buser attributes theosophyas the major religious influence. In his work, Gauguin seeks to applythis religious concept by applying his own understanding of things.Thus his work combines early all religions including Christianity andprimitive Tahitian religion including depicting himself as holy withhalo in his self-portrait (further explained in Jirat-Wasiutyński1987) in what is called theosophy. The article thus seeks to provethat Tahitian primitive religions and culture were just some of theinfluences in the artist primitivism works.
Bodelsen, Merete“Gauguin, the collector”, The Burlington Magazine 112, no.810 (Sep., 1970):
Bodelsen presents another side of Gauguin that many art enthusiastsmight not be aware of. The author portrays Gauguin as an artcollector and as a student and admirer of Pissaro. Apart from beingPissaro’s pupil, Gauguin also collected some of Pissaro’s work ofwhich some he would sell later. From this, it can be deduced thatGauguin was highly influenced by Pissaro in his primitivism approachin art as well as other painters and more so, impressionists as hecollected and dealt in such art. Therefore, the article presentsprimitivism as brand for Gauguin to market his art from a purelyfinancial perspective.
Lynn, Mary,“Gauguin`s Poèmes barbares and the Tahitian Chant of Creation”,Art Journal 38,
no. 1 (Autumn,1978): 18-21.
This article examines one particular piece by Gauguin titled “Poèmesbarbares”. This piece is titled after one of the Tahitian chants ofcreation. Through the analysis, the author same as Buser (1968) andJirat-Wasiutyński (1987) concludes that the artist was indeedinfluenced by many religions and used this painting to combinevarious theories of creation from different religions. The authormakes simple analysis in this article to present a coherent argument.
Jirat-Wasiutyński,Vojtěch, “Paul Gauguin`s "Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake":The Artist as
Initiate and Magus”, Art Journal 46, no. 1, Mysticism andOccultism in Modern Art (Spring, 1987): 22-28.
This article analyzes one of Gauguin’s earlier pieces that heworked before he relocated to Tahiti. With primitivism style largelyattributed to his stay in Tahiti, the source helps to capture theinfluences to the painter before he encountered Tahiti’s primitiveway of life. This article agrees with Buser (1968) that the maininfluence before Tahiti was theosophy. Thus his element ofprimitivism was imposed on his earlier influences of theosophy. Thepiece “Paul Gauguin`s "Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake”juxtaposes holy through the halo and the evil through the snake inhis own primitive understanding of religion.
Arnheim, Rudolf,“Gauguin’s homage to honesty”, Leonardo 25, no. 2(1992): 175-177
Rudolf in this article recognizes the honesty with which Gauguin madehis primitive paintings. He says that the Gauguin borrowed thisideology of honesty that involves giving attention to visualimmediacy to fellow artist Gitto. The unity of objects in hispaintings does not naturally reflect their unity in reality butrather how the painter perceives them. In doing, he is honest tohimself in representing what he perceives subjectively. This relateswell to the argument presented in the article by Dennys (1949).Therefore, the primitivism presented by Gauguin was an honest way ofhis perception of Tahitian culture.
Connelly, Frances,“"Primitive” ornament and the Arabesque: Paul Gauguin’sdecorative art, In
The Sleep of Reason: Primitivism in Modern European Art andAesthetics, 1725-1907, Pennsylvania, Penn state Press, 1995. Ch3.
This particular chapter addresses the misconception of Tahitian artas primitive. The author argues that Europeans who consumed much ofthe art that Gauguin produced used the wrong lens to perceive theart. He argues that the so called primitive decorative art of theTahitian was advanced by the Tahitian standards. He argues that thewhole concept of primitivism is based on a wrong premise. To theauthor, Tahitian aesthetics had evolved along a different andseparate path from European art.
van der Grip, Paul,“A south seas inspired model of exoticism”, In Art andExoticism: An
Anthropology of the Yearning for Authenticity. New York: LITVerlag Münster, 2009. Ch. 8.
This chapter looks at the journey of Gauguin to the south in Tahiti,Martinique and other counties. The author says that the artists madethis journey in search of something of exotic. He found Martiniqueand Panama too civilized through colonization to provide exotic artcontent. For the reason, he settled in Tahiti as it had exotic artsubjects. Thus primitivism arose out of the artists desire to presentsomething unique to the European art world. Furthermore thisprimitive or exotic aspect was also evident in Gauguin’s sculpturesand wood carvings. Therefore, this resource argues that Gauguinactively pursued primitive cultures in order to have edge as anartist.