De-Mythicizing the Artist: How Gauguin Responded to the Art Market




Kapp, Sarah

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The scholarship on Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) views his artwork through an anachronistic twenty-first century bias. For contemporary viewers, the Tahitian oeuvre is particularly problematic. This research explores how we might re-invent the category of biography, applying a more critical lens to those places where it is too celebratory or judgmental, as well as needing the leavening force of the socio-economic field of art production. Adopting a Materialist/Marxist approach, I have analyzed Gauguin’s production of his first album of prints, known as the Volpini Suite (1889), during a critical moment where he is re-evaluating his identity as an artist. His career trajectory is impacted by key events such as the 1882 stock market crash, the 1886 final Impressionist exhibition, the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. By defining the precise historical conditions surrounding the Volpini Suite, Gauguin can be reinterpreted as a conscious cultural producer and adept marketer, in a critical period in his career before travelling to Tahiti in 1891. A dominant trend in the scholarship is to adopt Post-Colonial and Feminist approaches to the entirety of his oeuvre. Gauguin, like most artists operating during the late-nineteenth century, had to navigate both the challenges and opportunities presented by contemporary economic, social, and political forces. Understanding the precise nature of these cultural forces are vital to the re-positioning of the artist and offer art historians a new way to work with biography and the socio-economic production of art.



Paul Gauguin, art market, art history, Post-Impressionism, Impressionism, Volpini Suite, Volpini Show, Exposition Universelle, Universal Exhibition, World’s Fair, biography, Tahiti, Primitivism, Synthetism, Sarah Kapp