Gauguin’s Gals

Joys of BrittanyThe Cleveland Museum of Art is hosting “Gauguin: Paris 1889”, featuring a recreation of the “radical independent exhibition that Gauguin organized (and shamelessly self-promoted) on the grounds of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris”.

It was unbelievable.

The exhibition is only exhibiting in two places — Cleveland and Amsterdam — hence the CMA’s insanely awesome marketing: “The man shunned civilization. (So it’s only appropriate that he’s making just one US stop.)”.

What struck me about this exhibit is Gauguin’s sensitivity to the people he saw and painted, much moreso than Van Gogh (and they lived in Arles together, painting for several months). Although I think that Van Gogh’s portraits and subjects are richer, more intense, electrifying, I think that Gauguin had a better way conveying people and their moods, and well, the reality of their lives. In this exhibition, the innocense and movement in his subjects (specifically his primary subject matters in this exhibition, which were the Breton girls dancing and the woman with red hair in the waves) is arresting, and I have thought about these anonymous people over and over again since I saw the exhibit last weekend. And so they are striking in a different way than Van Gogh’s studies.

In this exhibit, Gauguin’s oils, chalks, sculptures, and wood carvings all run central to two themes: his life in Brittany and life in Tahiti. And he keeps dabbing a brilliant red/orange to make a tiny splash on each composition (a single carnation on each of the Brittony girls ‘dresses; the vibrant red hair on the girl in the waves). We walk through daily life in Brittany — largely seen through children’s eyes, and the series aptly named “Voipini Suite: Joys of Brittany” — but we also see very deep, intellectual themes running through, particularly with the violent green waves and the woman thrust in them. Her body takes up the entire picture, so that the viewer feels almost caught up in the waves with her. In the end, when he was in Tahiti, he created a self-portrait with his face very dark (disturbance, insecurity), and in far in the background, off to the sides, are a small white cloth (indicating the white Brittany hats of the women and children there) and a red swath of paint (indicating the woman’s vibrant red hair). In this exhibition, Gauguin came full circle with his themes and his work.

In the waves

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3 comments

  1. How I wish I could see this show!!! I’ve loved Gauguin forever. This was a great post, Lori, and thanks for showing “Ondine”, which is one of my favorites.

    Claudia

  2. Claudia, it really was a fabulous show! I’m going next week to tag along on another docent tour to see it again. Those docents always manage to get so much more out of it than I can! Though I do like to wander by myself too. I like to try to figure out what cultural/social events were going on at the time the artist painted the works…

    Thanks for your post, and have a fabulous weekend!
    -Lori

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