Sunday morning with Gauguin
December 16, 2010

On a bright Sunday morning Gem and I wandered down to the south bank via Starbucks at St Paul’s, where the cathedral bells were ringing out their pre-Christmas message loud and clear!

As we crossed over the Millennium Bridge I got my first sight of the, under construction, Shard building which, when it is finished, will be the tallest in London and command tremendous views across the city.

We had pre-booked tickets at the Tate Modern for ‘Gauguin: Maker of Myth’, a major exhibition of paintings, sculptures and drawings which explores the myths Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) addressed in his work as well as those he created around himself as a rebel artist.    

I have always been drawn to Gauguin’s vibrant use of colour and his well documented bohemian lifestyle. This first major retrospective, in Britain, for over 50 years contains over 150 pieces (including letters and journals) pulled together from the world’s major galleries to provide a compelling narrative of the artist’s life and work.

The exhibition begins with a room full of self portraits which demonstrate Gauguin’s astute awareness, from a very early stage, that by continually developing and publicising his rebel artist persona in this way people would be drawn to his work.

Thinking about it isn’t that an approach more recently adopted, to great effect, by David Bowie as a 70’s glam- rock musician and Madonna throughout her career?    

Elsewhere in the exhibition is the controversial ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’, in which Gauguin uses his own facial features to depict a Christ figure with bright orange hair (Bowie comes to mind again!)

Gauguin’s exploration of cultural myths is demonstrated by his use of rustic Breton stereotypes, in the pastoral scenes created during his time at Pont Aven, and later through his better known Tahitian scenes which depict the island as some kind of earthly paradise.

Although his paintings from Tahiti may have promoted outsiders’ perceptions, and the artist’s own dreams of virgin lands and paradise gained, his diary entries were honest enough to admit it did not really exist and was more a case of paradise and innocence lost.

In his 1897, oil on canvas, work entitled ‘Nevermore O Taiti’, which is being used by Tate Modern to promote the exhibition, Gauguin actually concedes this point in pictorial form.    

The exhibition, which I would highly recommend, doesn’t have much longer to run and closes on January 16th before moving on to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Following our culture fix there was just time for a bit more artistic reflection, over yet another coffee, in the Globe Theatre café bar before heading back on the early afternoon train to the Shire.