Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview

It was not until the autumn of 1889 when a different critical and artistic situation had emerged in Paris that Gauguin took up some of the issues he had introduced in Vision After the Sermon. However, in Yellow Christ ( 1889, Buffalo Albright-Knox Art Gallery) and Green Calvary ( 1889, Brussels Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique) his strategies were entirely different. In these pictures the peasants are not visionaries and the religious connotations are made obvious by the use of the crucifix from the Chapel at Trémalo and the calvary at Nizon. There are also references to the exploited, inhabited landscape around Pont Aven and Le Pouldu and to the people who lived and worked there; rich and poor peasants, a shepherdess, a seaweed gatherer, pleasure and religion in a rural society and landscape.

In modernist art history's ideological retreat into stylistic accounts and theories of personal artistic 'expression' and 'experience', Vision After the Sermon has been used to safeguard certain fictions about Gauguin and Brittany. The terms in which he described the effects he thought he had achieved in figures in this painting are one of the two fragile threads with which certain notions or données of Bretonness have been constructed and sustained. In fact, Stevens manages to use both of them with reference to Vision After the Sermon, Yellow Christ and Green Calvary in one sentence:

[ Gauguin] sought to capture the 'dull, muted, powerful note' of his clogs ringing out on the granite soil, as well as 'the rustic and superstitious piety' [sic] of the Breton peasants which he expressed in Vision After the Sermon and the two calvary paintings of 1889, the Yellow Christ ... and the Breton Calvary.... 49

These phrases — used as if their meanings are transparent — and the verb 'expressed' reproduce a comforting and unproblematic picture of the artist and what he painted. They render redundant, if not unthinkable, any discussion of the historical conditions and structures of representation which determined and mediated the nature of Gauguin's contact — such as it was — with a real historical Brittany and its classed populations. In the 'Literature of Art' these complex social realities are absented, and modernist art history is built upon and structured by that evasion.


References
1
Post-Impressionism: Cross Currents in European Painting, Royal Academy of Arts Catalogue, London, 1979, A. Bowness, 'Introduction', p. 11 (hereinafter referred to as R. A. Post-Impressionism, 1979).
2
R. A. Post-Impressionism, 1979. Roger Fry quoted by A. Bowness, p. 10 and n. 1, p. 12.
3
R. Fry and D. McCarthy, Manet and the Post-Impressionists, London, Grafton Galleries, 8 November 1910-15 January 1911, pp. 7-13, and R. Fry, Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, London, Grafton Galleries, 5 October-31 December 1912, pp. 7-8.
4
R. A. Post-Impressionism, 1979, A. Bowness, p. 11.
5
Ibid., p. 11.
6
Ibid., p. 11.
7
Ibid., p. 11.
8
Ibid., p. 11.
9
R. Fry and D. McCarthy, op. cit., p. 7.
10
R. A. Post-Impressionism, 1979, A. Bowness, p. 11.

-302-

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