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Paul Gauguin’s Self-Portraiture and the Concept of Androgyny
Bryn Mawr College Dissertations and Theses
  • Irina Stotland, Bryn Mawr College
Degree Date
1-1-2012
Degree
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department
History of Art
Abstract

The dissertation contextualizes Paul Gauguin’s self-portraits within the nineteenth-century notion of androgyny. The first chapter explores Gauguin’s textual figurations of self in relation to the contemporary medical and philosophical understanding of androgyny and to the literary representations of an androgyne in the works by Honoré de Balzac, Flora Tristan, Théophile Gautier, and Joris-Karl Huysmans. Gauguin’s texts include a view of androgyny both as a figure of transcendence and as a figure of transgression in accordance with the earlier and later nineteenth-century views, respectively.

The second chapter focuses on Gauguin’s visual images of androgyny in his self-portraits and their connection to the images of androgyny in the works of Gustave Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne. Like his written images, Gauguin’s pictorial representationsof androgyny reveal it as both transcendence and transgression. The manner in which he resolves his anxiety aboutthe threat of transgression varies between his two categories of self-portraits. In both categories Gauguin incorporates an element of femininity that challenges the gender binary. In the embodiment self-portraits, this element is part of the image of self and in the insertion self-portraits, it is part of the secondary images. The emphasized performativeness of his androgyny in the first category and the distancing of the transgressiveelement from the image of self in the second category allow Gauguin to neutralize his anxiety about androgynous identification.

The third chapter situates Gauguin’s ambivalent attitude toward androgyny in his figurations of self in terms of colonial discourse and psychoanalysis. Gauguin’s self-portraits can be seen to draw onthe colonial split of the “primitive” and the “civilized” identities. His images of transcendent and perverse androgyny reveal his desires and anxieties about the “primitive” state of undifferentiation. In Freudian terms, the use of the fetishistic dynamic of stereotyping allows Gauguin to deflect his anxieties. In Kleinian terms, the desire for androgyny can be seen as a desire for reparation of the depressive position and the deflection of anxieties as a defensive reaction of the schizoid-paranoid position.

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Citation Information
Stotland, Irina D. “Paul Gauguin’s Self-Portraiture and the Concept of Androgyny.” PhD diss., Bryn Mawr College, 2012.