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Harvest of memories : national identity and primitivism in French and Russian art, 1888-1909

McGill University
Publication Date
  • Primitivism In Art -- France.
  • Primitivism In Art -- Russia.
  • Nationalism And Art -- France.
  • Nationalism And Art -- Russia.
  • Art
  • French -- 19Th Century.
  • Art
  • French -- 20Th Century.
  • Art
  • Russian -- 19Th Century.
  • Art
  • Russian -- 20Th Century.
  • Linguistics
  • Logic
  • Political Science
  • Religious Science


The myth of the peasantry as developed in nineteenth century European thought centres around the premise that rural populations were an unchanging element of society whose traditional customs, religious beliefs, and modes of production contrasted sharply with the accelerated changes in urban culture. A critical examination of selected paintings by the French artist Paul Gauguin (1848--1903), the Russian Neoprimitivist Natalia Goncharova (1881--1962), and the French Fauve painter Othon Friesz (1879--1949) within their specific, social contexts reveals the ways in which the modern, artistic maintenance of the rural myth elucidates current political and social issues of nationalism. This underscores the peasantry's symbolism within the nation as representative of a national, collective consciousness and ancestry. The peasantry's incorporation into the primitivist discourse and the cultural articulation of the rural myth are revealed in the paintings The Vision After the Sermon (1888), Yellow Christ (1889), Fruit Harvest (1909), and Autumn Work (1908). The paintings and their respective social contexts situate the peasantry both as constructions within the primitivist discourse and symbols of national identity, thereby disrupting the structure of alterity upon which primitivism is predicated.

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