PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903)
PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903)
PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903)
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PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903)

Idole Tahitienne

PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903)
Idole Tahitienne
woodcut printed in black, over monotype printed in terracotta and ochre
circa 1894-95
on thin cream wove paper
a strong and vibrant impression of this rare and important print
one of only nine recorded impressions, printed by the artist in Pont-Aven or Paris
Sheet 149 x 118 mm.
Hill-Stone, New York.
Acquired from the above on 1 January 1987, and thence by descent to the present owners.
M. Guérin, L'œuvre gravé de Gauguin, Paris, 1927, no. 44, p. 16 (another impression illustrated).
E. Mongan, E.W. Kornfeld & H. Joachim, Paul Gauguin: Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints, Bern, 1988, no. 32, pp. 146 & 147 (this impression cited; another impression illustrated).

C. Becker, ed., Paul Gauguin Tahiti, exh. cat., Stuttgart, 1998, no. 83, p. 133 (another impression illustrated).
J. Hargrove, Gauguin, Paris, 2017, no. 294, p. 251 (another impression illustrated).
G. Groom, ed., Gauguin, Artist as Alchemist, exh. cat., Chicago, 2017, no. 185, p. 245 (another impression illustrated).
S. Figura, Gauguin: Metamorphoses, exh. cat., New York, 2014, nos. 96 & 97, pp. 144 & 145 (two other impressions illustrated; a detail illustrated p. 8).
Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Gauguin and Polynesia: South Pacific Encounters, September - December 2011, no. 221, p. 230 (illustrated).
Further details
This work has been requested for the upcoming exhibition The World of Gauguin to be held at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from June 2024 to February 2025.
Sale room notice
Please note that this work has been requested for two concurrent upcoming exhibitions:
The World of Gauguin to be held at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from June 2024 to February 2025.
Paul Gauguin and the development of a new pictoral language to be held at Kunstforum Wien, Vienna, from October 2024 to January 2025.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

'It was all over – nothing but civilized people left. It was sad, coming so far…Shall I manage to recover any trace of that past, so remote and so mysterious?' (P. Gauguin, NOA NOA, Voyage to Tahiti, Oxford, 1961, p. 8).
Idole Tahitienne is a very rare woodcut made circa 1894-1895, shortly before Paul Gauguin returned to Tahiti from France, at the same time as he was working on a series of prints to illustrate NOA NOA, a memoir of his first visit to the South Seas. The work depicts the moon goddess Hina, who appears in several other contemporaneous works, including the monotype Arearea no varua ino (Words of the Devil), and a terracotta vase featuring a pantheon of Tahitian gods. Cut and printed in an intentionally rough and expressive manner, Idole Tahitienne evokes the totemic quality of Gauguin’s carved sculptures in wood which he described as ‘ultra-sauvage’, a term which encapsulated his desire to recover what he saw as Tahiti’s authentic ‘primitive’ past.
Gauguin turned to the woodcut at the moment when his paintings were finally gaining recognition. In contrast to his oils, the medium offered the artist the means to both pursue his vision of the exotic 'other' and recuperate the relationship between artist and material that had theoretically been corrupted by industrialisation. Similar desires motivated his first trip to Tahiti in 1891, and his choice of destination was largely inspired by popular accounts extolling the natural beauty of the tropics as well as the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where goods from French colonies were on display. But when he arrived in Papeete in 1891, Gauguin found that his fantasy of an island untouched was far from reality. Disappointed by what colonial rule and missionary influence had wrought, he wrote to his wife, ‘The Tahitian soil is becoming completely French and little by little the old order will disappear. Our missionaries had already introduced a good deal of protestant hypocrisy and wiped out some of the poetry, not to mention the pox which has attacked the whole race’ (P. Gauguin quoted in B. Thomson, ed., Gauguin by Himself, London, 1998, p. 167).
Although willing to own up to his disillusionment in letters, in his art, Gauguin clung to his vision of the unspoiled tropics. Work such as Idole Tahitienne celebrate a so-called primitive iconography and suggest a world untouched by Western thought. The materiality of the woodblock, for Gauguin, could be simultaneously ‘savage and complex’, the exact dichotomy he hoped would emerge in his paintings (E. Prelinger, ‘Savage Poetry: The Graphic Art of Paul Gauguin’, in Paul Gauguin: The Prints, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zurich, 2012, p. 23). But rather than reveal the truth of what he found, in works such as Idole Tahitienne, Gauguin sought to depict ‘the past, not the present, to portray symbols, rather than specifics’ (C. Ives, ‘Gauguin’s Ports of Call’, in The Lure of the Exotic: Gauguin in New York Collections, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2002, p. 78).
The artist’s approach to printing his woodcuts was unconventional. Working without a press he employed various other methods of applying pressure to achieve the desired effect, including rubbing the sheet with his hand, and even, according to the Hungarian artist József Rippl-Rónai, ‘putting his weight on his bed’ to press down on a sheet and block placed under the foot of the bedstead (From an inscription written by Rippl-Rónai on the back of a woodcut gifted to him by the artist, quoted in E. Mosier, ‘Gauguin’s Technical Experiments in Woodcut and Oil Transfer Drawing’ in Gauguin Metamorphoses, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 65).
He also developed an idiosyncratic approach to incorporating colour in his woodcuts, borrowing aspects of the monotype medium with which he was simultaneously experimenting. For this impression of Idole Tahitienne Gauguin prepared the background by applying ochre and terracotta inks, thinned with solvent, with a brush, perhaps to an uncarved block or a sheet of glass. The sheet of paper was then pressed against this surface, creating an imprint of the brush marks, over which he then printed the woodcut in black.
This experimental approach both in the inking and the printing of his woodcuts resulted in considerable variation in the impressions pulled. No edition of Idole Tahitienne was realised, and of the nine known examples, three of which are in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, each is different. In this superb, richly inked impression, the striations of the transferred brush marks are exceptionally vivid and clear, especially the terracotta stroke which prints more strongly than both the Blair and Hubacheck examples in The Art Institute of Chicago.

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