Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

Katherine Manthorne

Committee Members

Rose-Carol Washton Long

Bettina Lerner

Ziva Amishai-Maisels

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | French and Francophone Literature | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Modern Art and Architecture

Keywords

Paul Gauguin, Stéphane Mallarmé, Alfred Jarry, Charles Morice, French Symbolism, Post-Impressionism

Abstract

Many scholars have read the work of Symbolist painter Paul Gauguin through the tales of his travels to Tahiti (1891–93) in Noa Noa, despite the fact that they are an artful fiction, written upon his return to France in collaboration with the writer Charles Morice. Instead of interpreting Gauguin’s work through the lens of his biography, this study seeks to elucidate the nature and conditions of the cultural field in which the artist worked by examining objects and texts that he exchanged with three of his Symbolist literary peers: gifts Gauguin gave to poet, critic, and leader of the Symbolist movement Stéphane Mallarmé; the artist’s collaboration with poet and essayist Charles Morice on his travel journal Noa Noa; and three poems after Gauguin’s paintings that novelist-poet-playwright Alfred Jarry gave to the artist.

Although Gauguin’s gifts to Mallarmé have been seen merely as an attempt to curry favor, chapter one shows how the artist engaged with the poet’s thinking about myth and authorship. Chapter two examines Noa Noa as a collaborative effort between the artist and Morice, rather than separating the contributions of each as in previous scholarship; it proposes that Mallarmé’s Les dieux antiques was a model for their collaboration and argues that Gauguin’s prints that accompanied Noa Noa were more Mallarméan than the text. Seeking to move beyond a biographical reading, chapter three reinterprets Ia Orana Maria, Manao tupapau, and L’homme à la hache in the light of the artist’s working process and Jarry’s poetic interpretation. In contrast to selective readings of individual poems by previous scholars, this chapter studies each poem in its entirety, elucidating the experience of the painting that Jarry captures. It also illuminates how contemporary ideas about sexuality and the occult informed both Gauguin’s compositions and Jarry’s interpretations.

The dissertation argues that by examining the social nature of Gauguin’s art we can better identify the cultural conditions within which the artist worked and how he negotiated this milieu. To do so, it draws upon the theoretical framework of nineteenth-century semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce, joining scholars in archaeology and anthropology who have reassessed his legacy in recent years and applied his semiotic theory to their investigations of material objects.

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