Word and Image in France, 1880–1926
Chapter 1 - Hierarchies of the Senses in Symbolist Criticism 17
Chapter 1 Hierarchies of the Senses in Symbolist Criticism Birds of a Feather? Gauguin’s Ambivalent Relationship with Literary Symbolism Shortly before his departure for Tahiti, Gauguin completed portraits of two Symbolist writers, Stéphane Mallarmé and Jean Moréas, who had been inf luential in raising his profile among art critics and the literary community.1 Situated ambiguously between homage and parody, both portraits combine caricatured features with a dense symbolic iconography attesting to Gauguin’s knowledge of literary Symbolism (see figs 1 and 2). Mallarmé and Moréas are both positioned in three-quarter profile, their features enlarged and the curls of their generous moustaches particularly prominent. In each case, the facial feature that Gauguin has chosen to exaggerate most connects the poet to a feathered companion who hovers in the background: Moréas’s huge eyes are mirrored in the plumes of the peacock that clutches in its beak a collection of verse by the poet, Canti- lènes (1886), while Mallarmé’s pointed ears ref lect the sharp beak of the raven behind his head, alluding both to his own poem L’Après-midi d’un faune (1876) and to his 1875 translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. The portrait of Moréas appeared in a special edition of La Plume devoted to the poet in January 1891, while that of Mallarmé was proposed – though not accepted – for another special issue of the same journal the following year.2 Yet despite these points of comparison, the two images are markedly 1 An earlier...
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