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  • Noa Noa by Paul Gauguin and Charles Morice, and: Manuscrit tiré du 'Livre des métiers' de Vehbi-Zumbul Zadi ed. by Claire Moran
  • Richard Hobbs
Paul Gauguin and Charles Morice, Noa Noa; with Paul Gauguin, Manuscrit tiré du 'Livre des métiers' de Vehbi-Zumbul Zadi. Edited by Claire Moran. (MHRA Critical Texts, 50.) Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2017. 96 pp.

Édouard Deluc's recent film Gauguin: voyage de Tahiti (2017), starring Vincent Cassel as Paul Gauguin, includes borrowings from Noa Noa that clearly assume it to be an authentically autobiographical travel narrative about the artist's first Tahitian journey. This view has been, and still is, widely held, but Noa Noa is generically a far more complex text than this, as recent studies have highlighted, especially those of Linda Goddard (most fully in her Aesthetic Rivalries: Word and Image in France, 1880-1926 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2012)). Claire Moran's new edition of Noa Noa returns to its early compositional and publishing history to remind us that it was from the beginning not a single-authored book but a collaborative venture between Gauguin and Charles Morice, poet and critic, who is probably best remembered today as a theorist of Symbolism. Their collaboration aimed not for agreement over a single authorial voice, but used alternation of contrasting chapters by each author: Gauguin as artist and 'sauvage'; Morice as poet and civilized witness. Later [End Page 450] editions have sought to deny this co-authorship, excising Morice's contributions in order to arrive at supposedly genuine Gauguin. The version that Moran offers us restores Morice's contributions. In her Introduction she relates the device of contrasting alternation between two authorial voices to the more general use of dualism and contrast to be found throughout Gauguin's works, writings, and projects. Significant contrasts provide him with strategies in manipulating readers' responses, thereby aiding his self-promotion in the art market. Moran, towards the end of her Introduction, extends this use of contrast to the issue of irony. That Gauguin the exotic myth-maker was also an ironist is a rich vein of enquiry, and Moran stresses this by adding to her edition of Noa Noa a second and shorter example of Gauguin's writings: Manuscrit tiré du 'Livre des métiers' de Vehbi-Zumbul Zadi. This text is a hoax, pretending to present the thoughts of a Turkish painter, and taking issue obliquely with some aspects of neo-impressionist colour theory. Such a hoax emphasizes Gauguin's use of verbal strategy and duplicity, as opposed to transparency. The Vehbi-Zumbul Zadi text is not unknown, but Moran gives fresh insights into it by returning to the manuscript version in the Bibliothèque nationale. For Noa Noa she also turns to manuscript and facsimile versions. Having identified three versions of Noa Noa that might be considered definitive, she opts for the one held by the Louvre. There is, however, one essential difference between the Louvre version and Moran's edition, which she herself indicates with regret: the impossibility of including Gauguin's illustrations from the Louvre copy, a desirable addition that lay beyond the practicalities of this edition. Noa Noa was to be, according to its introductory section, 'ce livre à voir et à lire' (p. 22), a visual and verbal work, word and image combined and related to one another. Moran has given us not only a fine new edition of Noa Noa, but also a forceful reminder of the generic complexities that underpin artists' writings.

Richard Hobbs
University of Bristol


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pp. 450-451
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