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Grand Palais offers an exceptional journey into Paul Gauguin's fascinating creative process
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), La ronde des petites bretonnes, 1888. Huile sur toile ; 73 x 92,7 cm. Washington, National Gallery of Art, collection de Mr et Mme Paul Mellon © National Gallery of Art, Washington.


PARIS.- On the strength of a collection of over 230 of the artist’s works (54 paintings, 29 ceramics, 35 sculptures and objects, 14 blocks of wood, 67 engravings and 34 drawings), Gauguin the alchemist is an exceptional journey into this major artist’s fascinating creative process.

It is the first exhibition of its kind to study in depth the remarkable complementarity of the artist’s creations in the field of painting, sculpture, graphic and decorative arts. It focuses on the modernity of Gauguin’s creative process (1848-1903), and his ability to constantly push the limits of each medium.

Following the founding exhibition, Gauguin, organised in 1989, this new collaboration between the Art Institute of Chicago – which owns a significant collection of Gauguin’s paintings and graphic works – and the musée d’Orsay – which has one of the largest collections of the artist’s paintings, ceramics and sculptures on wood in the world –, gives fresh insight into Gauguin’s experiments on different media. It shows the diversity of the artist’s production in light of recent research into the techniques and materials used by Gauguin, notably thanks to the expertise of Harriet K. Stratis, Senior Research Conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago for Gauguin’s graphic works, or the work of Dario Gamboni, professor at Geneva University. The exhibition circuit consists of different rooms offering an immersion into the artist’s working techniques and methods.

Based on a chronological timeline, including a large number of exceptional loans (Les aïeux de Teha’amana, Chicago ; Eh quoi ! Tu es jalouse ?, Pushkin Museum, etc.), the exhibition highlights the connections and contributions between formal and conceptual graphics, but also between painting and objects : in the latter, the weight of tradition is lighter and allows for a certain amount of liberation. A careful selection of sources viewed by Gauguin allows visitors to fully understand his creative process (ceramics, impressionist works, extra-European art, etc.).

The prelude to the exhibition circuit, “The image factory”, is dedicated to Gauguin’s beginnings, from his representation of modern life in the wake of Degas and Pissarro to the first repetitions of a motif, focused on still life and the possibilities of introspection it offers.

“The big workshop” then focuses on the artist’s Breton period. Observation of Breton life, which he integrated, transformed and assimilated, reveals recurring motifs with numerous icons (La Ronde, Seated Woman, Back of a Breton woman, etc.) and leads to formal research in drawing, painting and ceramics.

“From subject to symbol“ shows how Gauguin, moved by increasing artistic ambition, shifts towards compositions with increasingly moral meanings, which would become the receptacle for his inner feelings. They reach their accomplishment in his wild and wretched “terrible moi”. His motifs undergo this change too : thus the bather becomes Leda, the figure of desperation inspired by a mummy in the Trocadéro becomes an allegory of Human Misery, and the woman in the waves becomes Ondine.

“The Tropics imagery” highlights the resonance of Maori traditions in Gauguin’s works. During his first trip to Tahiti, he constructed his own personal imagery of Tahitian life, and the exhibition once again emphasises the power of his formal research. The recurring theme of an “inhabited” nature spans the works in this section, as shown by the pastoral scenes and the development of the theme of Man in nature.
The exhibition itinerary includes a room dedicated to the manuscript of Noa Noa, which is only rarely displayed to the public.

The section “Myths and reinventions“ explores the increasingly mystical dimension of Gauguin’s work in Tahiti. Faced with the restricted material traces left by Tahitian culture, Gauguin, based on the Tahitian oral tradition, invents a new plastic language. The figure of the worrying Spirit of the Dead (Buffalo, Albright - Knox Art Gallery) tormenting Tahitian girls comes back again and again in his works from this period.

The final section, “In his own surrondings“, focuses on Gauguin’s obsession with decorative research in his last period, in both interior scenes and the exploration of the lush nature (Rupe Rupe, Musée Pouchkine). An entire work of art in itself, his hut at Hiva Oa (la Maison du Jouir) completes his quest for a primitive golden age. The digital representation of la Maison du Jouir, in the form of a hologram, which is presented for the first time in an exhibition alongside the sculptures that decorated the entrance, closes the exhibition with an exploration of Gauguin’s final studio home. It is an opportunity for visitors to experience a unique immersion in his creative studio.





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