September 28, 2010 / 2:29 PM / 9 years ago

"Show of year" is UK's first on Gauguin in 50 years

LONDON (Reuters) - French painter Paul Gauguin gets his first major exhibition in Britain for over 50 years this week, and early reviews suggest it was worth the wait.

Two newspapers have given the show five stars, including the Times’ Rachel Campbell-Johnston who described “Gauguin: Maker of Myth” at London’s Tate Modern gallery “the show of the year.”

Organizers say they have come up with a “fresh and compelling” look at the master of modern art, concentrating on his approach to storytelling and how myths and fables were central to his work.

“Gauguin is an artist who created his own persona and established his own myth as to what kind of a man he was,” Tate director Nicholas Serota said in an introduction to the show.

“That is highly relevant when you come to think about an artist like Damien Hirst, or even Gilbert and George ... it is something that seems very current.”

The opening room of the exhibition examines how Gauguin built up his public persona through self-portraits, which range from the artist as bohemian painter to corsair to what looks like a hospital patient or invalid contemplating death.

Later in the show is “Christ in the Garden of Olives,” in which the artist appears as a red-haired Christ as he is betrayed shortly before his crucifixion.

Gauguin clearly drew parallels between Christ’s suffering and his own at a time when he felt neglected by the Paris art world, betrayed by his followers and short of money.


The artist famously spent much of the latter part of his life in Polynesia, source of his famous and familiar Tahitian images, where again he reveals his urge to create stories, not all of them accurate.

Determined to reconstruct myths that had been lost with the arrival of Christianity on the islands, Gauguin used not wholly reliable accounts of Tahiti’s history and culture in paintings and wooden idols.

“In Gauguin’s art, at least, ancient myth becomes part of everyday Tahitian life,” the Tate said in its exhibition guide.

Glimpses of domestic life in France are provided by portraits of his children Clovis and Aline sleeping.

Here Gauguin appears to be entering their imagination with disturbing images of animals and a sinister jester doll apparently coming to life as they sleep.

“To me it is extraordinary that a picture which so delicately evokes a child’s unconscious fears, conflicts and consolations should have been painted 18 years before Freud published the Interpretation of Dreams in 1899,” wrote Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph of “The Little One Is Dreaming.”

Included in the exhibition are two rooms dedicated to archive material related to Gauguin and his times, including letters, newspaper clippings and books.

The show runs from September 30-January 16 at Tate Modern before transferring to the National Gallery of Art in Washington from February.

Editing by Steve Addison

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