Gauguin at the Grand Palais in Paris: How to ruin a magnificent artist’s work

 Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) is an artist of pleasure and pictorial sensuality.

From Brittany to the Marquesas Islands, he often uses warm tones in his paintings, adopting a characteristic spectrum from yellow through to brown, punctuated by pinks, blues and greens.

His compositions and bold framing produce a sense of dizzying euphoria.

His angels fallen from heaven, his languid Tahitian women or his placid grazing horses all instil the desire for an unattainable paradise.

For Gauguin is an inventor of worlds.

When he discovers Tahiti, which had already been “debased” by colonizers, he uses his paintbrush to transform it into an Eden.

Gauguin does not seek the truth. He wants to dream freely and encourage dreaming in others.

Quite simply, Gauguin is a genius who is drawn to pleasure. Even his hut on the island of Hiva Oa in French Polynesia, which would be his final residence, was called “ la maison du jouir” (house of pleasure or enjoying).

The agenda is clear.

It was thus with great impatience that we awaited the opening of a Gauguin exhibition in Paris at the Grand Palais.

Alas, despite the greatness of this painter-traveller, the exhibition is technical and needy.

We are left in the dark as to the curatorial reasoning behind the artworks on paper. The overall intention is diluted within the oversized space. The magnificent paintings in which all the colours and shapes sing are treated just the same as the gloomy etchings.

This exhibition is a lesson in the scientific approach to art, which can have a tendency to stifle all enjoyment for painting.

The approach is meant to be novel. The curators’ objective is to demonstrate the techniques and materials used by Gauguin, his relationship to ceramics, wood carving, etching, and his principles of series and variations on themes. One of the great moments in the exhibition, for there are some, is the reconstitution of the “House of Pleasure” in the gallery space, with its totems and carved lintels.

The most beautiful room is the one dedicated to “Arcadia Tahiti” with the masterpiece  ” Et quoi tu es jalouse “Are You Jealous?” depicting two young women in conversation, which we saw recently at the Vuitton foundation in the exhibition of the Shchukin collections in Paris, and also in the excellent 2015 retrospective dedicated to the painter by the Beyeler foundation in Basel.

We shall therefore disregard the themes and curation and give Gauguin the painter the honour he deserves in visiting the Grand Palais.

- October 9, 2017

Paul Gauguin ( detail)
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
La maison du jouïr, Gauguin
Paul Gauguin