Monday, March 7, 2011

Gauguin, the "sauvage"

The retrospective of Gauguin's works has reached our side of the Atlantic. The exhibition was recently a complete success at the Tate Modern. The day of my visit, the attendance at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, should predict the same enthusiasm from the visitors. Two levels of the museum are occupied with 150 paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics, starting with self-portraits, and progressing through the life of Gauguin. Like a biography, we can follow the painter evolving, according to new places, new friends or circumstances. I never dreamt of seeing these works , dispersed all over the world, at the same location.

The periods are well represented, the artist abandoned Impressionism rapidly, was for a short period one of the Symbolists , evolved to Cloisonnism and Synthetism. Gauguin marginalizes himself and, at the same time, develops the style he is most remembered for, Primitivism. Alone in Tahiti or the Marquesas Islands, recluse in his own world, he creates his paradise, often ill and surrounded by squalor. At times, unable to afford the supplies to paint, he uses the local woods and makes sculptures. The artist always finds a media to create. He is on a mission: " I am a great artist and I know it. It's because I know it that I have endured such sufferings".

Most of his major pieces are here: Oviri, The Yellow Christ, Spirit of the Dead Watching and so many more. Some of the works are not aging well like Ondine ( my opinion). One could regret the smaller display of his earlier and Brittany period.

The exhibition is about Gauguin, the maker of myths, transcending his surroundings and producing a unique collection of works. In parallel with his search for a sometimes confused mysticism and the Universal, he develops techniques and themes that will inspire future artists.

Most art lovers think they know Gauguin, at least I did. But I realized that my knowledge was fragmented. This retrospective, the first in the United States since 1980, gave me the opportunity to look at the works again in a more organized fashion, allowing me to understand the artist. I found the comments somewhat brief, of course the catalogue is always a good resource. Instead, I reread the book written by Bengt Danielsson " Gauguin in the South Seas" and the "Journal des Iles" from Victor Segalen who landed in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands a few months after Gauguin's death and repatriated some of the works on the boat "La Durance".

photographs 1 and 2 Creative Commons

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