20 mars 2008
Manao Tupapau. Elle Pense au Revenant - L'Esprit des Morts Veille.
Original lithograph in black ink. March 1894. Signed in full in ink. Inscribed in ink by Gauguin as 'Ep 6' - impression no 6. From the edition of 100 impressions. Drawn by Gauguin for the series: L'Estampe originale. Issued by André Marty, Paris 1894. With the special blindstamp for L'Estampe Originale lower left sheet corner Gauguin's only stone lithograph and a highpoint of his oeuvre
Ref: Kornfeld-Mongan-Joachim - Gauguin Prints no 23
Full sheet: 16 3/8x23 3/8ins. Image: 180x271mm
Gauguin spent his first period in Polynesia in 1891 to 1893. Since the mid 1880s he had been increasingly disillusioned with the traditions which had grown from earlier 19th century painting. In 1886 he met Van Gogh and made contact with Emile Bernard and the circle of painters at Pont Aven. He felt increasingly that, as he put it, painting should not describe but 'suggest as music does'. In the period of the late 1880?s he became a focus of the Pont Aven artists developing a style in which patterns of form and colour are used to evoke mental emotions rather than pictorial description. By the end of the 1880?s he was again restless and unfulfilled and he determined to renew his inspiration by going to live within an atmosphere of primitive simplicity and pure vitality which he believed he would find on the islands of French Polynesia.
When he arrived in Tahiti he quickly moved away from the main town, which he found too Europeanised, to live in the interior with the natives. Amongst them he studied Tahitian customs and ideas. He was especially fascinated by the primitive superstitions of the people which he found intellectually refreshing after the over-defined attitudes of artistic circles in France. 'Manao Tupapau - Watched by the Spirits of the Dead' is one of his most famous compositions. It depicts the young Tahitian girl, with whom he lived, asleep in their hut at night. She keeps a candle burning because it is the light which she believes protects her from the waiting spirits of death who lurk in the darkness beyond, powerless unless total darkness takes over.
The painting of this subject, now in Chicago, is one of the most complete expressions of Gauguin?s inspired first period in Polynesia. In 1893 ill health and lack of money forced Gauguin to return to France (but determined to go back to the islands). In France he started to make some prints of Tahitian themes using woodcut. He was also approached by the great print publisher André Marty to make a lithograph for his groundbreaking 'L'Estampe Originale' series. Gauguin had made some zinc lithographs for the Synthetist show at the Café Volpini in 1889 but for this work he enthusiastically decided to work on lithographic stone. He chose the theme of his 'Manao Tupapau' painting but modified it to use the special tone values of the lithography to the full. It is a masterpiece of his printmaking, his only 'on stone' lithograph but a total expression not only of the theme of his art but also of his feeling for light, for patterns of surface and for the way that varying tones of black can create a richness of 'colourism' within a monochrome format which is intensely beautiful.