Van Gogh and Gauguin: Electric Arguments and Utopian Dreams

Van Gogh and Gauguin: Electric Arguments and Utopian Dreams

Van Gogh and Gauguin: Electric Arguments and Utopian Dreams

Van Gogh and Gauguin: Electric Arguments and Utopian Dreams

Synopsis

This text explores the tumultuous relationship between two great masters of 19th-century painting, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and the impact of that relationship on their art.

Excerpt

Why another volume on two of the most celebrated and extensively scrutinized figures in the history of art? Despite the mountainous literature on each of the legendary artistes maudits, very few writers have concentrated exclusively on van Gogh and Gauguin's relationship. Many questions about their collaboration remain unresolved—from the precise nature of their influence on each other to the degree of Gauguin's responsibility for van Gogh's ear cutting. And the inevitable emphasis on the Arles period with its bloody climax has obscured the very important dealings the artists had with each other both before and after their occupation of the Yellow House. Art historians, moreover, have made many discoveries since the midcentury outpouring of psychoanalytic writings on van Gogh and his fateful encounter with Gauguin. I have taken advantage of this more recent scholarly material to deepen and refine the psychoanalytic interpretations of the artists, their relationship, and their paintings. It has been very tempting for art historians and psychoanalysts alike to see van Gogh and Gauguin in terms of polarities—father versus son, rogue versus saint, champion of the imagination versus advocate for reality. These dualities have a tight grip on the imagination not only because they contain kernels of truth but also because the artists themselves helped construct them in their writings and in their art. I have tried to introduce nuance and complexity into this polarized conception of van Gogh and Gauguin—without entirely dismantling the mythical oppositions.

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