Who is Paul Gauguin?
Long before the age of selfies and social media, artist Paul Gauguin was sharing his self-portraits, portraying himself in many guises, as well as his artist friends and colleagues. Using many different techniques, including painting, drawing, and sculpting, Gauguin expressed the many façades he felt best represented his ideas, attempting to position himself as a pioneer in the world of art. The National Gallery of Canada’s newest and groundbreaking exhibition, Gauguin: Portraits explores the way in which the innovative and complex 19th-century French artist re-invented the art of portraiture.
Paul Gauguin. Self Portrait with Idol, McNay Museum. Circa 1893.
Gauguin: Portraits was five years in the making, with curators sourcing his works of art from some of the world’s most famous museums, such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, and private collections.
Gauguin used self-portraits to construct his own narrative and his ideas about art. He successfully challenged the original function of portraits, which were traditionally a signal of social standing, establishing himself as a leader of the avant-garde. Gauguin’s use of intense colours and interest in non-European subject matter, inspired artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Without his artistic contribution, it is speculated we may not have some of today’s most well-known and beloved artworks.
Paul Gauguin. Melanchonic (Faaturuma) circa 1891. Image credit: Nelson-Atikins Media / Chris Bjuland and Joshua Ferdinand.
The exhibition displays more than 50 of Gauguin’s works created between 1848 and 1903 and was curated by Dr. Cornelia Homburg, guest curator at the National Gallery of Canada, and a specialist in late 19th-century art. “Working on the preparation of Gauguin: Portraits was absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. Not only because of the new findings we made, but also because it brought to the fore Gauguin’s boundless creativity as well as the contradictory nature of the artistic positions and personal ambitions,” said Dr. Homburg.
A modern spin
The show is surprisingly modern for a 19th-century artist.
Visitors will have a hands-on opportunity to experience the texture and shape of a 3D scanned reproduction of Gauguin’s larger-than-life bust sculpted in oak, representing his friend Meijer de Haan, one of the National Gallery of Canada’s collection treasures. In the same space, visitors can use a touch screen to explore the sculpture from every angle, and zoom in on details that aren’t discernible to the naked eye. To enhance their visit, visitors can find new research findings on Gauguin’s life in another dedicated room.
To learn more about how the artist worked with portraiture, a free app offers an in-depth audio guide highlighting additional context for selected works. Look for the Gauguin: Portraits app in the Google Play and Apple App stores.
Plan your visit
Gauguin: Portraits runs until September 8, 2019. Tickets for an assigned date and time can be purchased online. Admission for children 11 and under is free. Once the show wraps up in Ottawa, it will be presented at the National Gallery in London, England, starting October 7, 2019.