Artibus et Historiae no. 59 (XXX)

2009, ISSN 0391-9064

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BÉATRICE LOVIS - Paul Gauguin's Still Lifes: An Unknown Aspect of His Artistic Activity

Gauguin's first attempts at still-life painting, around 1875, followed the Dutch tradition, influenced mainly by Manet's palette. But he did take occasional liberties in depicting flowers with more fluid colour and dynamic backgrounds. From 1879 his style shows the influence of the Impressionists: Pissarro in the landscapes and Degas in the composition of his still-lifes. He was also open to the new trends which were developing among artists in Paris and applied them in his paintings, using still-lifes as his main means for testing them. He did not escape the contemporary fascination with Japonism, and even experimented briefly with Pointillism in Still Life with Horse's Head.

His stays in Britain between 1886 and 1890 correspond to an extremely rich and innovative period for him, in which still-lifes served for increasing experimentation. "Fête Gloanec" and Three Puppies reflect his preoccupations: rejection of perspective, use of areas of flat colour, and mixed styles. These pictures amount to an aesthetic manifesto; many of them are also imbued with strong symbolism, as in the Portrait of Meyer de Haan, which is a melancholic reflection on the fall of man.

In Still-Life with Japanese Print, frail blue flowers seem to come out of the head of the artist-martyr, a pure product of the painter's "restless imagination". Thus Gauguin showed that art is an "abstraction" through a genre which was reputed to lend itself with difficulty to anything other than mimesis. Although he moved away from still-life after 1890, Gauguin is one of the first artists to radically renew its role and the status of still-life at the end of the 19th century, well before the Fauvists and Cubists.

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