Gauguin Wood Engravings and Woodcuts

In addition to being a painter Paul Gauguin created wood engravings and woodcuts as well.  In fact he was very influential in this area and made a significant impact on the 20th century wood engraving and woodcut medium.


A woodcut is the art of engraving wood by hollowing out certain areas of a plank of wood with chisels in order to leave a design in the wood.  Ink is then applied to the plank and the plank pressed to a piece of paper transferring the design onto the paper.  The technique was developed as early as the 5th century to apply design’s to Chinese textiles.  By the early 19th century woodcutting had largely been replaced with wood engraving which was a more exact printing technique for reproducing oil paintings.  By the mid nineteenth century photography and lithography had superseded woodcutting as a mass production technique for book illustrations. 

By the end of the century artists once again began to discover the wood engraving and woodcut techniques and there was a revival of the art.  Upon his return from Tahiti in 1893 Gauguin began to work on illustration with woodcuts for his manuscript Noa, Noa.  Most wood blocks were created with a chisel however Gauguin would not use one.  He used a needle, a small engraver, and a pocket knife but used his own techniques by sanding the wood which created interesting effects as well as gouging it.  He knew about the conventional treatment of the wood but he created his blocks differently.  His techniques created very primitive type images.  He also experimented with color as well as stencils and other processes. 

Gauguin helped to pave the way for other artists who also appreciated the woodcutting and wood engraving medium. 

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