Paul Gauguin and the Complexity of the Primitivist Gaze

R.B.J.M. Welten

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


    The article describes the complexity of Paul Gauguin’s primitivism in a philosophical, more precisely, hermeneutical-phenomenological way. Hermeneutical, because it deals with the interpretation of primitivism, and phenomenological, since it focuses on the phenomenological gaze that, in all its complexity. Primitivism, as it is argued, is a way of looking. In Gauguin's ‘Tahitian’ paintings, we encounter a double gaze: one the one hand, the colonial gaze depicts the other as primitives, but on the other hand, there is the gaze of the faces of Tahitians staring at us. I will elaborate on the latter as the counter-gaze and argue that the characterization of Gauguin as a 'primitivist' fails to understand that in his work, the other resists representation and, as such, gazes back. Gauguin’s painting as a 'anti-conquest', therefore, is not a mere personal, political or cultural revolt, but first and foremost a phenomenological effort. It is the spectator who becomes the intruder, the voyeur, caught red-handed in his own primitivist gaze.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Art Historiography
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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