Lima to Pont-Aven
Although van Gogh and Gauguin are often cast as opposites—the innocent versus the rogue, the masochist versus the willful manipulator—their art comes cloaked in a remarkably similar set of myths. At the most primitive level of this mythology, their paintings are seen as raw, untutored, and spontaneous-volcanic eruptions of the soul. Both artists contributed to this mystique. Van Gogh repeatedly insisted that the viewer recognize "deep feelings" in his paintings. 1 And, in an unusual lapse in artistic self-awareness, he made this claim without ever acknowledging the endlessly complicated gap between daubs on a canvas and one's inner world. Gauguin, for his part, talked of his "savage" nature and of the "savagery" of his art as if he too could directly communicate his primal emotions. These statements and the fantasy of unmediated expression that they evoke disguise not only the artists' cultivated sensibilities but also the weight of their respective pasts and family traditions. Just as Vincent's career amounted to a continuation, in however rebellious a form, of the van Goghs' dual allegiances to art and religion, so Gauguin's eventful life displayed a surprising continuity with his own distinguished, though more exotic, ancestors. Instead of a bourgeois stockbroker suddenly transforming himself into a bohemian, Gauguin, by becoming a revolutionary artist, reverted to family type.