Gauguin and the Voyage to the Exotic

The Artist as Ethnographer

The appeal of otherness that spurred the development of primitivism in Gauguin’s day is apparent in artists’ new relationship with ethnography. Primitivism connects us with the “Other” through a sort of reflected image in which we gaze at something strange, something different. However, as Victor Segalen asserted, “let us not flatter ourselves for assimilating the customs, races, nations and others who differ from us. On the contrary, let us rejoice in our inability ever to do so, for we thus retain the eternal pleasure of sensing Diversity.” What matters is not discovering the mechanism of difference, but the irreducible strangeness of cultures, customs, faces and languages. Gauguin and the expressionist artists were united by the commitment of difference, of distance, of an “aesthetic” approach to the “Other”.

Muchacha con abanico

Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903) The Girl with a Fan (Jeune fille a l'éventail)

Oil on canvas. 91.9 x 72.9 cm.
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany.
© Museum Folkwang

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