A major international exhibition opening this fall at the Cleveland Museum of Art explores a watershed moment of transformation in Gauguin’s career that introduces the themes, motifs and the style that would emerge as hallmarks of his career. Featuring more than 75 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Paul Gauguin and his contemporaries, Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889, is the first exhibition to focus on 1889 as a critical juncture in Gauguin’s artistic development. Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889 is on view at The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) from October 4, 2009 through January 18, 2010; it will then travel to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.Predicated on new research by Cleveland’s associate curator of drawings, Heather Lemonedes, in collaboration with Agnieszka Juszczak, a guest curator at the Van Gogh Museum, and Belinda Thomson, Honorary Fellow, University of Edinburgh, Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889 reveals a more complete picture of how well-formed Gauguin’s artistic vocabulary was by 1889. That year Gauguin staged an independent exhibition during the Exposition Universelle in Paris that showcased his emerging post-Impressionist style.
Excluded from the exhibition of academic paintings at the Grand Palais, Gauguin presented his work and works by his contemporaries in Monsieur Volpini’s Café des Arts, located on the grounds of the Exposition Universelle. The exhibition in Café Volpini, L’Exposition de peintures du groupe impressionniste et synthétiste is recognized as the first Symbolist exhibition in Paris. Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889 recreates the 1889 avant-garde exhibition at Volpini’s café, showing paintings Gauguin exhibited as well as works exhibited by Louis Anquetin, Émile Bernard, Charles Laval and Émile Schuffenecker. This exhibition will be the first reinstallation of works from the Volpini exhibition, and will include many works that have not hung side-byside since 1889.
Also on view at the Café des Arts was Gauguin’s suite of 11 zincographs, printed on oversized sheets of canary yellow paper, which chronicled the artist’s early career and travels to exotic Martinique, rural Celtic Brittany, and Provençal Arles. The Cleveland Museum of Art owns a complete set of the prints which will be on view in a gallery that recreates the Café Volpini exhibition. Complete sets of Gauguin’s zincographs in pristine condition are rare; it is thought that the artist only printed an edition of about 30. The prints provide a visual resume of Gauguin’s early work and prelude themes explored in his future works, including bathers, laundresses, and figures in exotic landscapes while also foreshadowing bold innovations that were to become typical of his mature, Tahitian style. The exhibition will focus on artistic process and the way that Gauguin used and reused motifs over time and across media, shedding new light on this previously underappreciated suite of prints.
For this exhibition, the Cleveland Museum of Art has also reunited the only hand colored set of the Volpini Suite, colored by Gauguin and disseminated among American and European museums and private collections. These prints will be juxtaposed with other works by Gauguin that echo the prints’ themes.
Gauguin’s multimedia interpretations of similar motifs-through ceramics, woodblocks, paintings and drawings-will offer insight into his imagination and artistic process. The synergies between Gauguin’s 1888-89 paintings and prints of bathers and his later Tahitian woodcuts from Noa Noa emphasize that the foundation for Gauguin’s South Seas works was established during his time in Brittany. One print from the CMA’s collection particularly emphasizes this continuity: one side features the Volpini Suite zincograph of laundresses crouching beside a river, while five years later Gauguin printed an impression of one of his Noa Noa woodcuts the sheet’s verso. The Volpini Suite had, both literally and figuratively, stayed with the artist, a rich source of artistic innovation to be mined in the years to follow.
Together, the exhibition’s rare pairings illuminate both Gauguin’s growth and foundation: for instance, prints and paintings of bathers will be on view alongside Gauguin’s La Baignade, a drawing only recently discovered in a Polish private collection. Other rare pairings include the hand-colored zincograph of the Volpini laundresses alongside the painting The Laundresses from the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.