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Aesthetic Rivalries

Word and Image in France, 1880–1926


Linda Goddard

This book explores interaction and competition between painting and literature in France, from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth, offering new readings of works by key figures including Paul Gauguin, Stéphane Mallarmé, Pablo Picasso and André Gide. Combining close visual and literary analysis with a broader examination of critical discourse, the volume uncovers a mutual but often contentious exchange of ideas. The author challenges habits of periodisation, drawing attention to the links between Symbolist and Cubist criticism. Issues such as the debate about ‘literary’ painting, the role of art criticism and artists’ writings, as well as themes such as newspapers and gold, alchemy and forgery, are shown to connect the two centuries. In examining how the rejection of mimesis in painting affected literary responses to the visual arts, the book explores a shift in power from the verbal to the visual in the early decades of the twentieth century.


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Chapter 2 - A Creative Conspiracy: Gauguin’s Noa Noa 65


Chapter 2 A Creative Conspiracy: Gauguin’s Noa Noa A Parisian in Tahiti In the catalogue to the exhibition ‘The Art of Paul Gauguin’, held at Wash- ington, Chicago and Paris in 1988, Charles Stuckey preserved the myth that Gauguin went to Tahiti in order to be ‘removed far from critical debate, to meditate on ancient values and thus renew art at its source’.1 Gauguin himself identified more prosaic motives behind his decision to depart for Tahiti in 1891. A trip to Martinique in 1886 had fuelled his tropical fanta- sies and two years later he wrote to Emile Bernard: ‘I pretty much agree with Vincent, the future is with the painters of the tropics, which haven’t been painted yet, and one must satisfy the ignorant buying public with new subjects’.2 From the outset, then, Gauguin imagined his transferral to Tahiti in terms of its potential impact on his European audience. He also brought with him a collection of sources acquired in Europe – most nota- bly photographs of decorative friezes showing the life of Buddha from the Javanese temple of Bârâboudour, probably purchased at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889 – and continued to rely upon European documentation to resurrect defunct Polynesian myths and deities.3 1 Charles F. Stucky. ‘The Impressionist Years’, in Brettell et al., 1988, p. 13. 2 ‘je suis un peu de l’avis de Vincent, l’avenir est aux peintres des tropiques qui n’ont pas été encore peints et il faut du nouveau comme motifs pour le public...

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