April 19, 2010 / 11:58 AM / 9 years ago

Gauguin from money man to myth maker, show says

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - He abandoned life as a stockbroker after the 1882 stock market crash and had an eye for self-promotion — a major London exhibition on Paul Gauguin this autumn will aim to show the artist in a thoroughly modern light.

A woman looks at Paul Gauguin's painting "Deux femmes" at an exhibition in Hong Kong January 17, 2006. REUTERS/Paul Yeung

More than 100 works by the celebrated French painter will be gathered from collections around the world for “Gauguin: Maker of Myth” at Tate Modern in what has already been billed by critics as the “event of the year” on the British art scene.

Organizers unveiling the lineup and themes to be explored at the show, which will run from September 30-January 16, 2011, were bold in their claims for the first major British show dedicated to the artist in more than 50 years.

“In contrast to all these (other) exhibitions, the distinctive quality of the Tate Modern show will be its ambition ... in representing all aspects of Gauguin’s artistic output,” Christine Riding, co-curator of the show, said on Monday.

One idea that will run throughout the exhibition, however, will be the importance of myths to an artist who famously went into self-imposed exile in Tahiti where he immersed himself in the fast-disappearing Maori culture.


But his tendency to create and explore myths came not only from extensive travel and exposure to other cultures but also from his desire to create a persona — part true and part invented — around himself.

“Each major canvas he would declare to be better than anything he’d done before,” said Belinda Thomson, another curator on the show, explaining Gauguin’s tendency to self-mythologize.

And he provocatively portrayed himself as Christ in his 1889 “Self-portrait as Christ in the Garden of Olives,” underlining how he deliberately set out to shock.

Having spent the first five years of his life in Peru, Gauguin came to cast himself as a “savage” artist.

“The Inca according to legend came straight from the sun and that’s where I will return,” he once wrote in a letter.

He also said of himself that he represented a mixture of “coarse sailor,” having served as a merchant sailor and in the French Navy, and someone with “blue blood” in his veins.

But his past was often less romantic then he would have people believe, and it took a major financial crisis in France to turn Gauguin into a full-time painter.

Gauguin spent a decade as a stockbroker from 1872-1882, although during that period he became seriously interested in art and taught himself how to paint partly from works he collected with his new-found wealth.

The French financial crisis of 1882 was instrumental in his choice of an artistic over a business career, a decision that would leave him strapped for cash throughout his life.

He held an auction of his works in 1891 in order to fund a trip to Tahiti, where many of his most famous paintings were made, and had to ask for government sponsorship to supplement the travel costs.

Gauguin returned to Paris in 1893 with just four francs in his pocket but departed for Tahiti again two years later where he was hampered by ill health and short funds. He died in 1903 in the Marquesas Islands.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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