December 01, 2011
April 01, 2012
Honolulu Museum of Art / Gallery 9
The Academy’s paper vault yields another treasure: Paul Gauguin’s woodcut illustrations for his Tahitian journal Noa Noa. At the Academy, Gauguin is best known for his iconic painting Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach (1891/4), a luminous portrayal of Tahitian women in nature that Anna Rice Cooke bought for the museum amidst a swirl of controversy. Gauguin’s bold palette, flattened perspective, and intuitive approach to what was both tangible and intangible formed the theoretical basis for Symbolism and laid the groundwork for abstraction. His lifelong disavowal of the moral severity and artificiality of industrialized Europe was a catalyst for modernist primitivism.
Gauguin was also skilled as a printmaker and a draftsman, and Noa Noa numbers among his masterpieces. The series is based on paintings and sketches that he made during the first of two voyages to Tahiti and chronicles his response to the culture he encountered there for a Parisian audience with scant direct experience of the South Seas. Noa Noa conjures not with the reality of Tahiti, but with Gauguin’s ideal of the Polynesian isle as an unspoiled earthly paradise, spiritually superior to and more authentic than the corrupt and urbanized West. The 10 prints that comprise the series—pulled first by Gauguin and, later, by his son Pola—bear the visible scrapes and gouges of the artist’s singular approach to the woodcut medium; deceptively crude, they index his creative process and encapsulate his primitivism. All 10 illustrations for Noa Noa are in the Academy’s permanent collection, and all will be included in the exhibition.