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Primitivism In Gauguin’s And Nolde’s Paintings

1386 words - 6 pages

Around the end of the 19th century, many modern artists in the west began stylizing their work based on the art and cultures of foreign countries. It was an era when modern artists like Paul Gauguin and Emil Nolde studied primitive cultures and created works that utilized styles and compositions not seen before in western art circles. Abigail Solomon-Godeau and Jill Lloyd focused their articles on how Paul Gauguin and Emil Nolde used their knowledge of the countries they researched, to create indigenous inspired paintings. The articles focused on how each artist used primitive paintings to express their impressions and experiences within the countries they explored. Relating primitive cultures to their western counterparts, Abigail Solomon-Godeau discusses how Gauguin uses his experiences, and created artworks to capture mythological speeches within his art.
After he was terminated from his job as an investment advisor in Bertin France, Paul Gauguin started moving away from an economic career in order to move on to a more artistic based lifestyle. Gauguin moved to Pont-Aven and began to paint in his now famous primitive style. While in Pont-Aven, he noticed that the people living there and the town was essentially 100 years behind 1880’s France both economically and culturally. He utilized the artwork of the area and borrowed from several iconic symbols to create his art. Symbols like the yellow wooden Christ found in the cathedral of Pont-Aven, were inspirational to his work. Several other locations like Tahiti and those of his 1889 Universal Exhibition, helped Gauguin to establish a mythic speech in his primitive style paintings. Abigail Solomon-Godeau states how “mythic speech” is presented with Gauguin’s work in her article, “Going Native,” from the magazine Art in America:
Mythic Speech cannot be dispelled by the facts it ignores or mystifies – the truth of Brittany, the truth of Polynesia, the truth of Gauguin; rather it must be examined in its own right. And because myth’s instrumentally in the present is of even greater moment, we need to attend to its avatars in the texts of contemporary art history. Thus, while it is fruitless to attempt to locate an origin of primitive thought, we can at any point along the line attempt to unpack certain of primitivism’s constituent elements, notably the dense intervene of racial and sexual fantasies and power – both colonial and patriarchal – that provides its raison d’etre and which, moreover, continues to inform its articulation. (p.120)
What Abigail Solomon-Godeau is saying is that the symbols used in Gauguin’s paintings depict only key features of the primitive culture and does not have a clear narrative to it. He used his imagination solely to present a glimpse at the places he visited, capturing the color palettes and symbols for each location. One of his paintings created when he was in Tahiti, “Words of the Devil,” made in 1892, displays a tropical scene with a nude woman standing in a puddle...

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