London exhibition explores the myths of Gauguin

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A major exhibition of paintings, sculptures and drawings by Paul Gauguin opens in London Thursday, examining the myths he explored in his work and those he built around himself as the rebel artist.

"Gauguin: Maker of Myth" at the Tate Modern is the first retrospective in Britain for more than 50 years, showcasing his dazzling use of colour in the Tahitian and French landscapes depicted in more than 50 paintings.

Curator Belinda Thomson told AFP it aims to look past the negative press Gauguin receives for abandoning his wife and five children to paint first in Brittany, then in Tahiti, where he took several local wives.

"I hope that this exhibition will get people beyond that view," she said.

It begins with a room of self-portraits showing the various images Gaugin promoted of himself throughout his artistic career.

At first he is shown as a respectable stockbroker, his first career, then as a budding artist in his wife's family home in Copenhagen, then a peasant in Brittany, then a brigand and lothario, and finally a syphilitic old man.

Also on display is the controversial "Christ in the Garden of Olives", which shows Christ with Gauguin's features and bright orange hair standing against a sombre brackground.

Gauguin promoted myths surrounding him, said Thomson: "He early on realised that his own life story had the potential to give a cachet to his art, so there is the myth of the artistic persona."

He also explored cultural myths in his work, using Breton stereotypes in his paintings in Brittany, and painting Tahitian scenes that fit with the perception by outsiders that the island was some kind of paradise on Earth.

When he first arrived in Tahiti, Gauguin was appalled to find the Christian missionaries had erased most of the evidence of its pagan past, so he set out to recreate it, sculpting his own wooden idols and using them in his paintings.

Some of these sculptures are on display at the Tate, as are a wealth of works displaying Gauguin's breathtaking use of colour, such as in the iconic "Vision of the Sermon" where Breton maids watch Jacob wrestle with an angel.

The exhibition runs from September 30 to January 16, 2011, when it will move to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

© 2010 AFP

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