Gauguin as you have never seen him

Paul Gauguin, Vase with Leda and the swan, winter 1887-1888 © Collection particulière

It is a bewildering show that Grand Palais is offering us again, with « Paul Gauguin, the Alchemist. » which has just arrived in Paris from the Art Institute in Chicago. We know him as a painter of « vahinés », in Tahiti, and as a fervent painter of Britain and Pont Aven’s young peasants. But his passion for ceramics, furniture and decorative arts in general is less well known. Just as his Maison du Jouir, Hiva Oa, which he built at the end of his life in the Marquesas Islands.

Paul Gauguin, Laveuses à Arles, dit aussi Lavandières, 1888 © Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa – Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

Paul Gauguin was the son of a liberal journalist who had to flee France after the 1848 uprisings. He took his family to Lima in Peru where his wife had affluent relatives but died of a heart attack on the boat. Alina stayed there with until Paul was six and politics changed in Peru thus lessening her family’s position. She found work as a seamstres in Paris while Paul was being raised by his grandparents in Orléans.

Paul Gauguin, La ronde des petites Bretonnes, 1888 collection of Mr et Mme Paul Mellon © National Gallery of Art, Washington

As soon as he graduated from high school, he joined the French navy for two years and then moved back to Paris where he worked as a stockbroker for eleven years. In 1873, he slowly started to pain at the same time.

Cabinet in aulne with polychromy, from rue de Carcel, Hamburg Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe

A financial crash in 1882 forced him to paint full time. After moving to Copenhagen with his five children and his Danish wife, and trying out a new career as a businessman, he moved back to Paris leaving his family behind.

“I raro te oviri”, (Under the Pandanus tree), 1891, Dallas Museum of Art

This is when his life as an artist starts properly, with travels to Pont Aven in 1888 and Tahiti twice, but also to Martinique and Arles in Provence where he joins Van Gogh. All along his passion for objects makes him work with stonewer and ceramist Ernest Chapelet.

The superb catalog

What is extraordianary in the present show is teh variety of objects, furniture, Peuvian vases, engravings, works on wood, that one is able to discover. Half way through the exhbition precolumbian vases show teh influence he always searched in his past of exotic art. His green fourntain in varnished earth, his polchrome cabinet made in 1881, an the great number of vases an dpots in his canvases shows hi sinterst ofr artifact.

This is a large exhibition on two levels with the Tahitian paintings downstairs at the end. He had two more children in Tahiti and died very young at 55. He was never famous during his lifetime and only gained celebrity posthumously through collectors and dealers.  (Until January 22, 2018)

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