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KRISTI DAHM

Paul Gauguin’s Paintings on Paper:

Infrared Investigations and Their Implications

for Three Works from the Art Institute of Chicago Collection

ABSTRACT

In 2002 the Art Institute of Chicago received forty-one works on paper by Paul Gauguin representing imagery from Gauguin’s life in the South Pacific. A recent exami- nation and conservation campaign included infrared reflectography(IRR)studyofawatercolorsketch,Tahitian Hut, and two finished works in watercolor and gouache, Tahitian Landscape: Design for a Fan and Eve. In each work media beneath the surface were observed under magnifi- cation prior to carrying out IRR examination. Information in the IRR images varies in character and generates differ- ent interpretations and conclusions about the making of each piece. IRR revealed a cursory sketch for Tahitian Hut, a detailed preliminary drawing for Tahitian Landscape: Design for a Fan, and a stylistic modification in Eve linking the work to representations of the artist’s mother. For each work, the infrared reflectographs provide clear images of either preliminary sketches or the earliest painting stages. IRR discoveries inform authenticity, chronology, Gauguin’s working methods, artwork function, visual interpretation, and the relationships of these works to oth- ers in Gauguin’s oeuvre.

INTRODUCTION

In 1891 Paul Gauguin embarked on the first of two voyages to Tahiti in search of cultural purity he found lack- ing in modern France. His second voyage, begun in 1895, ended with his death in November 1903 on the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas. To commemorate the one hundred-year anniversary of Gauguin’s death, Edward McCormick Blair gave the Art Institute of Chicago forty- one Gauguin works on paper. This generous gift included

five watercolor and gouache paintings, seven drawings, six monotypes, twenty woodcuts, and three zincographs rep- resenting imagery primarily from Gauguin’s life in the South Pacific. Conservation of the forty-one works pro- vided an opportunity for technical examination including infrared reflectography studies of three watercolor and gouache paintings: Eve, 1889–90 (fig. 1), Tahitian Hut, 1893–94 (fig. 2), and Tahitian Landscape: Design for a Fan, 1900–1903 (fig. 3).

Fig. 1. Paul Gauguin, Eve, 1889–90. Gouache on millboard, 170 x 130 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago (2002.224).

Presented at the Book & Paper Group Session, AIC 32nd Annual Meeting, June 9–14, 2004, Portland, Oregon. Received for pub- lication Fall 2004. Color images for this paper are available online at http://aic.stanford.edu/bpg/annual/.

The Book and Paper Group Annual 23 (2004) 13

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