Few painters have captured the world as much as Paul Gauguin. This revolutionary and brilliant French painter has always been one of Tahiti’s greatest ambassadors as Tahiti inspired his greatest works. The Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland gathered 50 Gauguin masterpieces, including the most striking work from his time in Tahiti. Find out about this historic exhibition that attracted 370,000 visitors from February through June, 2015.
Art lovers truly had a once in a lifetime opportunity! Fifty masterpieces by Paul Gauguin, one of the world’s most important and fascinating artists of all time, were all housed under the same roof. It took more than six years to prepare this exhibition, and putting it together required borrowing masterpieces from worldwide museums and private collections. These masterpieces came from 13 different countries: Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Great Britain (England and Scotland), Denmark, Hungary, Norway, The Czech Republic, Russia, The United States of America and Canada. With works traveling roughly 160,000 km, the insurance alone for this monumental exhibition cost over 2.3 billion euro (2.5 billion USD). A total of 369,787 art lovers visited this historic Gauguin exhibition.
Gauguin and Tahiti: the quest for paradise
The exhibition focused mainly on the artist’s work generated in Polynesia. In addition to which were several of his Brittany masterpieces. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was not very happy with the Industrial Revolution. It was a world he perceived as superficial and that he wished to escape. He spent his entire life as a painter seeking an unspoiled primitive life style. When his friend Vincent van Gogh told him about a bestselling book he had read, The Marriage de Loti by Pierre Loti, Tahiti seemed to be the ideal place. Loti described Polynesia as being tropical islands where nobody worked, all the fish in the sea were free, fruit grew abundantly on trees and there were topless woman and free love. Paul Gauguin made two trips to Polynesia. His first Tahitian visit was in June 1891. He returned to France on August 30th 1893. He conducted his second Tahitian visit on September 9, 1896 and remained until his death in the Marquesas on May 8th 1903.
At the time of his death, he was known only by some fellow artists and a small group of collectors. His fame started rising about two years after his death, thanks to an exhibition Hommage to Gauguin, presented at the Salon d’Automne at the Petit Palais in Paris, France by legendary Art Dealer Ambroise Vollard. Today, Gauguin is often considered the Father of Modern Art who influenced painters like Picasso and Matisse, as well as important movements such as the fauve and German Expressionists. Unfortunately, he never enjoyed this notoriety during his lifetime.
Laurance Alexander Rudzinoff
« The Vision after the Sermon » 1888
Oil on canvas, 72.2 X 91 cm.
Scottish National Gallery, Edimbourg, Ecosse
This truly is an astonishing painting for its time. Note how the people in front all have their backs against the viewer. The bright red color of the ground contrasts the white coifs of these Brittany women. This was a technique used by Japanese woodcut artists. Gauguin first offered this painting to a priest in Nizon, who did not want it. Nizon was an ancient French community in the Finistère region of Brittany, France. In 1954, it merged with the neighboring town of Pont-Aven.
« Self portrait and Yellow Christ » 1890-1891
Oil on canvas, 38 X 46 cm. / D’Orsay Museum, Paris, France
In this self portrait, Gauguin shows the viewer how he saw himself, both martyr and savage.
« Aha oe feii ? » / « What ! Are You Jealous? » 1892
Oil on canvas, 66 X 89 cm.
Musee des Beaux Arts Pouchkine, Moscou
Here, Gauguin has painted two more enticing expressionless women who appear conquered and demoralized as they stare into a long vanished past.
« Matamua » / « In Olden Times » 1892
Oil on canvas, 91 X 69 cm.
Collection Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Espagne
This painting shows the world of Gauguin’s dreams and the world he actually found. The two women on the right show what Gauguin found upon his arrival in Tahiti; whereas the three women in the back personify Gauguin’s vision of idyllic pagan worship. The idol present is Hina, Goddess of the Moon.
« Oviri » / « Savage » 1894
Partially glazed Stoneware
D’Orsay Museum, Paris, France
In a letter to his close friend Daniel de Monfried dated 1900, Gauguin requested that this stoneware sculpture be placed over his tomb to rest there forever. Somehow, the original sculpture ended up in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. Since 1970, a bronze cast copy has adorned his Marquesan tomb. Gauguin considered himself a savage and saw the large figure in this sculpture as himself. Gauguin’s
Oviri is a woman of monstous proportions who is stamping the life out of an evil she-wolf while crushing an evil baby she-wolf placed on her hip.
« Contes Barbares », 1902, Primitive Tales
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Deutchland
Painted a year before his death, this mysterious night scene has a beautiful young woman with flaming red hair in the foreground. Behind her, an androgynous frozen figure sits in a Buddist lotus position. Behind the two, is Gauguin’s late friend Dutch painter Jacob Meyer de Haan. With his penetrating stare and claw-like toes, he frightens people.
« The Yellow Christ » 1889
Oil on canvas 92.1 cm. X 73.5 cm
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery – Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.
The Yellow Christ is a strong example of both Cloisonnism (a style characterized by dark contours and bright areas of color separated by bold outlines) and Symbolism (in which subject matter is idealized
or romanticized in some fashion). Many consider this painting to be one of the first Symbolist paintings.
« Riders on the Beach (II) » 1902
This entire picture is filled with the mellancholic taste of farewell, as if Gauguin was predicting his own death just a few months later. The riders quietly approach the limit of the land and the sea. This could suggest the limit between life and death.
« Vahine no te tiare » / « Woman with a Flower » 1891
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhague, Danemark
Here, Gauguin captures the mystical physical beauty of this young woman. Wearing a dress which hides her entire body, she holds a flower and gazes into a lost past.
« Nafea Faa Ipoipo » – « When Will You Marry ? » 1892
Royal Qatar Museum
The most talked about Gauguin painting in the entire world is When Will You Marry? Last year, the royal Al-Thani family of Qatar purchased this painting for their museum. The Royal Family paid the surrealistic sum of THREE HUNDRED MILLION U.S. DOLLARS. Rather ironic, when you consider that in 1893, Paul Gauguin proposed this painting to the legendary Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Durand-Ruel was not interested in purchasing it for Gauguin’s asking price of 1,500 French Francs. Note the difference between the first woman in her low cut neckline top and the second woman in a missionary dress.
« Parau api ? » / « What ’s the News ? » 1892
Oil on canvas, 67 X 91cm.
Staatliche Kunstsammlunger, Dresde, Deutchland
The title of this painting is What’s the News. Well there is no news. Just the same boring life routine. This was quite the opposite of what Gauguin expected to find in Tahiti. As always in all of Gauguin’s paintings, the women never smile; they look defeated and in despair, yet captivating, they gaze into a lost past.
« Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? » 1897
Oil on canvas, 139.1 X 374.6 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.
This painting shows Gauguin’s interpretation of the cycle of life. He considered this painting to be his great Masterpiece. Gauguin painted this work with the idea that it would be his last painting. After he finished this monumental work, he made a failed attempt to commit suicide.
The Beyeler foundation: a thirty-year old artistic sponsorship
The city of Basel, Switzerland feared that one of its favorite sons, legendary art dealer Ernst Beyeler, would take his collection out of the country, as did Baron Thyssen. The Kunstmuseum Basel proposed an extension to their museum, which would be dedicated to the Beyeler Collection. At first the idea appealed to Monsieur Beyeler, then he realized that there would be many similar works between the permanent collection of the Kunstmuseum and the Beyeler Collection, meaning that some of his pieces would go into the reserves. In 1993, after several years of talks between the community of Riehen (next to Basel, Switzerland) and Ernst Beyeler; a referendum on a possible Art Foundation was proposed to the people. The referendum was approved by a large majority of the Riehen population. The construction of the museum was financed by a non-profit foundation set up by Hildy and Ernst Beyeler created in 1982 to provide the Beyeler Foundation with financial support. The Riehen authorities provided the site free of charge and the Canton of Basel-Stadt contributes CHF 2.78 million annually (2.82 million USD) towards the museum’s operating expenses. The selected architect was the internationally renowned Renzo Piano.