Exquisite Gauguin sculpture inspires major exhibition at the National Gallery

Gauguin: Portraits

National Gallery of Canada, May 24 to Sept. eight

Timed tickets on sale April three, accessible on-line at gallery.ca, priced at $24 for adults, $22.24 for seniors, and $16 for college kids. Free for gallery members and kids 11 and below.


A tough piece of wooden exquisitely carved greater than 100 years in the past by grasp artist Paul Gauguin impressed a eureka second for artwork historian Cornelia Homburg.

A France-based knowledgeable in late 19th-century artwork, she was in Ottawa just a few years in the past to curate the National Gallery of Canada’s blockbuster 2012 exhibit, Van Gogh: Up Close. It was considered one of the gallery’s hottest displays ever, attracting greater than 230,000 guests.

While Homburg was conscious the Sussex Drive gallery had the Gauguin sculpture in its assortment (and had owned it since 1968), additional examination gave her the thought to suggest an exhibition of the French grasp’s portraits. Research confirmed, surprisingly, that nobody had ever targeted on Gauguin’s portraiture in the previous.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is fabulous,’” mentioned Homburg in a latest interview, sitting throughout the desk from the placing sculpture, the afternoon solar flooding the gallery’s conservation studio and highlighting each nook and cranny of the wooden. “I was interested in Gauguin initially because he and Van Gogh were friends. Then I got interested in this work, and found it absolutely fascinating.”

After 5 years of labor by a crew led by co-curators Homburg and Chris Riopelle from the National Gallery of London in England, the exhibit, Gauguin: Portraits, opens at Canada’s National Gallery on May 24, with an iPad-equipped, digitally enhanced room devoted to the sturdy fellow that sparked the thought, full with a 3D replica of it. Timed tickets go on sale April three. 

Paul Gauguin’s wooden sculpture of Dutch painter Meijer de Hann (c. 1889-1890), which is a part of the nationwide assortment of the National Gallery of Canada since 1968.

Jean Levac /

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The exhibit, which incorporates near 70 examples of the artist’s portraiture work, then travels to the London gallery in October.  

So, what makes this specific hunk of wooden so particular? For starters, it’s a portrait, a likeness of Gauguin’s pal, Dutch painter Meijer de Haan, the red-haired muse who’s regularly represented in Gauguin’s work. From the rooster on de Haan’s head to the branches sprouting from his cheeks, the piece is stuffed with symbolism.

“I was curious to know how someone can make a portrait, that, on the one hand, captures something of the sitter and at the same time, is so strange,” mentioned Homburg. “Meijer de Haan was a tiny man, he had a hunchback, he was not very healthy, and then Gauguin goes and makes an over-lifesize sculpture which shows only vitality and power and massiveness. I thought that was so fascinating.”

No much less compelling is the piece of wooden itself. The gallery’s chief conservator Doris Couture-Rigert spent the final 4 years analyzing the sculpture, wanting at the sort of wooden, the paint, brush strokes, software markings and the rest that tiny samples would reveal below a microscope. 

One of her challenges was figuring out the wooden Gauguin used. For a few of his sculptures, the artist would place an order for a pleasant, clean piece of a sure dimension. This one, nevertheless, seems to be a random discover, a hefty log of white oak presumably salvaged from a hearth.

“It seems very likely that this piece of wood was found locally,” says Doris. “It was not in perfect condition. It actually must have been lying around for quite some time after the tree was felled and cut because it’s not only ravaged by insects but has this split with the charring. He might have picked it out of the fire, or maybe not. We don’t know for sure. But it’s definitely not a piece of wood that he would have ordered.”

Cornelia Homburg (L), visitor curator of the exhibition Gauguin Portraits, opening at gallery May 24 and Doris Couture-Rigert, Chief of Conseration of the National Gallery talk about Gaugin’s wooden sculpture.

Jean Levac /


It’s additionally important that it’s white oak, a tough wooden notoriously troublesome to carve, but Gauguin frolicked on the patterns, textures and element. It’s believed he carved it between December 1889 and January 1890.

Gauguin, after all, is finest identified for vibrant, expressive work, significantly of his years in Tahiti, however oils weren’t his solely medium. The previous grasp had a stressed creativity he channelled into pottery, sculptures, drawings and prints. He additionally wrote extensively, prompting Homburg to explain him as “one of the very early multi-media artists.”

He was not thought-about a profitable portrait artist, at least in the conventional sense. One of his few commissioned portraits, of Suzanne Bambridge, a social determine in Tahiti, was not nicely acquired. “When she got the picture, she apparently hid it in a shed because she didn’t like it,” Homburg says. “So he was not a success as an official portrait artist.”

That portray can also be a part of the new exhibit, on mortgage for the first time in additional than 55 years from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. The exhibit additionally consists of self-portraits, portraits of associates and contemporaries, ladies and kids. Woman With a Mango is considered one of a number of well-known examples of his representations of Tahitian ladies.

Homburg causes huge a part of the motive Gauguin failed as a conventional portrait artist is as a result of he at all times adopted his personal creative path.

“Traditionally a portrait showed how the subject looked, how rich or poor, the social standing, the family, whatever,” mentioned Homburg. “We discovered that Gauguin breaks that open and does one thing totally different. He was very well-versed in artwork historical past. He knew the traditions of Western portraiture very nicely. In the finish, it’s usually not related who the individual is. He shouldn’t be exhibiting actuality. What he does is present a picture that tells a narrative that he needs us to see.

“He actually devoted himself in striving for a brand new type of artwork.”

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