Paul Gauguin's high yellow note: The “Volpini Suite”
With the Volpini Suite, a portfolio of ten zincographs and a signed frontispiece printed on large sheets of canary yellow paper, Gauguin created a visual resumé of his career as an artist, an advertisement of his subject matter and style. The prints were first shown in an exhibition of the "Groupe Impressioniste et Synthétiste" held at Monsieur Volpini's Café des arts on the grounds of the Exposition Universelle in 1889. Although the body of literature on Gauguin's art is vast, the Volpini Suite, the artist's first series of prints, has been neglected, particularly when compared to his series of woodcuts chronicling his first Tahitian sojourn, Noa Noa, made in 1893-4. In this study, I argue that making the Volpini Suite marked a critical moment in Gauguin's artistic evolution. Working in a graphic format for the first time, Gauguin simplified his style, flattened his forms, shifted from an art that was largely influenced by Impressionism to the style that has become associated with his mature art of the South Seas. In short, the Volpini Suite was crucial to Gauguin's artistic development.
I begin the dissertation with an examination of the lithographic the print portfolio in late nineteenth-century Paris, and focus on Gauguin's decision to embark upon the project of printmaking, which was prompted by Theo van Gogh. Chapter Two is devoted to a discussion of the eleven zincographs, examining their iconography, connections to related paintings, drawings, ceramics, and wood-carvings, and their descriptions of the exotic locales of Pont-Aven, Le Pouldu, Martinique, and Arles that were essential to the artist's early career. Chapter Three investigates the artist's bold choice of printing the Volpini Suite on canary yellow sheets, each measuring approximately 50 x 65 cm. Chapter Four explores Emile Bernard's portfolio of zincographs, Les Bretonneries, on view alongside the Volpini Suite at the exhibition at the Café des arts. Finally, I examine the legacy of the Volpini Suite and its influence on the prints of the Pont-Aven School and the Nabis, the early paintings and prints of Aristide Maillol, and the lithographs of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.