Paul Gauguin

The breakthrough into modernity

19 February 2010 to 6 June 2010

In 1889, during the Paris World’s Fair, Paul Gauguin and several friends exhibited their work on the festival site of the Café des Arts, owned by a certain monsieur Volpini. Among other works, Gauguin’s show included a series of prints he had made at the instigation of Theo van Gogh as a way of drawing attention to his paintings. This series of prints became known as the Volpini suite.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Volpini Suite: Design for a plate: Leda and the swan, 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh FoundationThese 11 zincographs on brilliant, canary-yellow paper were created at a crucial point in Gauguin’s oeuvre and offer an overview of the central themes in his work, from the exotic landscapes of Martinique to scenes of Pont-Aven and Arles. With the Volpini suite Gauguin effectively presented his calling card as an artist.

Paul Gauguin: The breakthrough into modernity is the first to examine in depth this series of lithographs, which played such a crucial role in Gauguin’s development into a modern artist. The exhibition will also show works by Gauguin and his friends like Charles Laval, Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin closely linked to the Volpini suite.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Breton girls dancing, 1888, National Gallery of Art, Washington (collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon)Altogether there will be some 60 works of art (paintings, works on paper, sculptures and ceramics) on view, including key pieces such as Be mysterious (Musée d'Orsay), Breton girls dancing  (National Gallery of Art, Washington), Self-portrait (Pushkin Museum, Moscow) and Is there news (Gemälde galerie Neue Meister, Dresden). The recent acquisition of the Van Gogh Museum, Breton girl spinning will also be on show.

Café des Arts and the Pont-Aven School
In the rebel tradition of Gustave Courbet and Eduard Manet, Gauguin and his friends had organized their own exhibition as a counterpart to the established art being shown at the Paris World's Fair in the Café des Arts. This L'Exposition de Peintures du Groupe Impressioniste et Synthétiste was the first joint presentation by a group of artists who were to become known as the Pont-Aven School. They had rejected Impressionism and Realism in favour of Synthetism, a style characterised by a simplification of form and colour into flat, rhythmic patterns and undulating lines. This new movement became a major source of inspiration for Les Nabis, a group of avant-garde artists working in Paris in the period 1890-1905, and other artists.

Parisian graphics collection
The Van Gogh Museum acquired an edition of the Volpini suite in 2004. The series represents an important addition to the Museum's print collection, which gives a comprehensive view of the most important developments in Parisian graphics production during the final two decades of the 19th century.

Guided tours (in English and Dutch)
Every Sunday morning at 11:00 and every Friday night at 19:30 there will be free guided tours of the exhibition.

Exhibition catalogue Paul Gauguin: The Breakthrough into Modernity, Heather Lemonedes, Belinda Thomson et al., Van Gogh Museum/The Cleveland Museum of Art/Hatje Cantz Verlag, 248 pages, 200 illustrations, in English and Dutch, € 32.50 (museum edition). Also available in French and German.

Visions: Gauguin and his time (Van Gogh Studies 3), Dario Gamboni, Juliet Simpson and others, Waanders Publishers / Van Gogh Museum, 208 pages, 90 illustrations, in English. Price: € 45 (hardback).

Both publications are available in the Van Gogh Museum shop and via

Paul Gauguin: The breakthrough into modernity is organized in collaboration with The Cleveland Museum of Art where the exhibition was on show from 4 October 2009 until 18 January 2010.

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