Gauguin's Volpini Suite

Gregory M. Donley Magazine Staff

For many artists, a particular event or body of work signals an “arrival on the scene.” For Paul Gauguin, that event was a café exhibition staged in conjunction with (but not in cooperation with) the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, and the seminal group of works was the Volpini Suite, a striking group of 11 zincographs on yellow paper that came to be known by the name of the café’s proprietor, Monsieur Volpini. That gathering of about 100 works of art by Gauguin and his fellow renegade artists is now recognized as history’s first Symbolist exhibition. In the Volpini Suite, Gauguin established the style and approach—drawing from the mind more than from direct observation—that came to distinguish the rest of his career.

A woman appears in the waves in this detail from the Volpini Suite and then reappears in the museum’s Paul Gauguin painting, In the Waves, 1889 (Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Powell Jones 1978.63).

The Cleveland Museum of Art owns a complete set of the prints, and associate curator of drawings Heather Lemonedes began thinking some years ago about building a small exhibition around the suite. “The prints draw on Gauguin’s travels to the exotic locales of Martinique, Brittany, and Arles,” she notes, “and they establish familiar motifs—such as the mourning Eve, the woman in the waves, and fruit bearers—that continue to show up in his work from this point forward. The seeds of his future are here.” The small idea grew. Lemonedes worked with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to re-create on a smaller scale that radical independent exhibition of 1889. The presentation will include the suite of prints and many associated paintings and other works, a re-creation of Monsieur Volpini’s Café des Arts, and an art exploration gallery where visitors can experiment with making their own prints. Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889 will be shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art from October 4, 2009 to January 18, 2010, and will be presented at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, from February 19 to June 6, 2010.

Heather Lemonedes examines the zincographs in the museum’s print study room.


Cleveland Art, July/August 2009