Theses Doctoral

Old Myths and New Forms of Orientalism: Gauguin, Toorop, van der Leck, and Mondrian

Roustayi, Mina S. M.

More than fifty examples of works by Paul Gauguin, Jan Toorop, Bart van der Leck, and Piet Mondrian demonstrate the significant influence of artifacts, newly revealed since the early nineteenth century, from the ancient Orient, that is, Pharaonic Egypt and biblical lands. The individual interest of these artists is analyzed in four monographic chapters, which indicate enough similarities in their interpretation and use of the ancient motifs to constitute a new departure in Orientalism. Their particular approaches bring out as well particular biographical, symbolic, and iconographic insights into their artistic development. As a leading symbolist painter, Gauguin pioneered the revival of sacred art involving old and new myths of Orientalism, which were critical also for Toorop, van der Leck, and Mondrian. Characteristically, all four artists assimilated ancient Oriental artistic conventions as a form of primitivism a return to original purity -- to create radical images about personal and social renewal.

The primordial figured also in the narrative and symbolic synthesis of their art. Stylistically, all of their work became more decorative, two-dimensional, and more compatible with the architectural plane; line and color were released from mimetic servitude, and a pictographic aspect was added. Gauguin, Toorop, van der Leck, and Mondrian all integrated ancient Oriental motifs into their work, but each to his own ends. While Gauguin appropriated Achaemenid Persian and Egyptian art, van der Leck studied Egyptian, Assyrian, and Sumerian art, and Toorop and Mondrian relied on Egyptian art. Though Gauguin discussed music as a paradigm in the new art, the musical quality of Egyptian and Assyrian (and even Sumerian) art made a greater impact on the work of the Dutch artists. Likewise, they embraced the social and mural tradition of ancient Oriental art as a model for their own attempts to reintegrate architecture with utopian art. The dissertation has answered my original question regarding the impact of ancient Oriental art on progressive artists at the turn of the century. The project has also brought surprises, in the form of many unexpected connections between artists and other members of the European intelligentsia, which merit further exploration.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Reff, Theodore F.
Russell, John
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 22, 2014