Introduction to ‘The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Gauguin Portraits’ | National Gallery


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Christopher Riopelle. I am the Neil Westreich Curator
of Post-1800 Paintings here at the National Gallery and, along with my colleague
Dr Cornelia Homburg, who will be speaking to us in a moment, curator of the exhibition
which opens today to the public, ‘Gauguin Portraits’. I hope that you didn’t have
too much trouble getting here to Trafalgar Square today, and I hope you don’t have too much trouble
getting home afterwards, but it is very good to see you here,
for it is a very special day with two lectures, Bernadette Murphy,
at 2.15 in this same space, will be discussing
the ever-fascinating topic of Vincent and Gauguin
together in Arles in 1888, and you are indeed very welcome
to stay for that talk as well. Cornelia Homburg is
a distinguished scholar and curator, particularly of the art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She’s worked at the Van Gogh Museum
in Amsterdam, at the St. Louis Museum
in St. Louis, Missouri, which many of you may know is the greatest collection
of German art in America. And she herself has done
many, many important exhibitions on the art of this period, work on Vincent, her great exhibition on Vincent’s use of close-up of details of nature
is very well remembered. Her work on Vincent and Japan led to a hugely popular
and successful exhibition. She’s worked on Seurat
and the Neo-Impressionists. And the other year we were very happy when Connie came to us with the idea that there was more to be said
about Gauguin and that if we isolated
a particular strand of Gauguin’s art, that is the portrait, all kinds of interesting issues
began to arise about what is a portrait,
what is a portrait for Gauguin, how does Gauguin use and expand the notion of what portraiture can be. We’ve been working together,
really, five years on the exhibition. It came to fruition at
the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, for which Connie was working as a guest curator in the spring, and now, as of today,
has transferred to London, and a few changes along the way, which is inevitable in any collaboration,
but not many. And so, we are particularly delighted that Connie accepted our invitation
to launch this exhibition before such a full house and to lay out to you what we hope to discover
and what we have discovered, and what you will be seeing when you visit the exhibition. So, Connie… Thank you, Chris, for that very kind
and generous introduction. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m delighted to be here with you. And I thank the National Gallery
here in London for the kind invitation to speak
on the occasion of this exhibition. As Chris mentioned already, it was a very exciting journey
to undertake, to prepare this project, and I don’t think I could have imagined a more wonderful colleague than Chris
to work on this together. Gauguin was a fascinating artist
with endless creativity, a complex and challenging personality, who often took on, with great purpose, contradictory positions
and provocative poses. When we look at the portraits in general, at the tradition of portraiture, we are almost always curious
about the models. We want to know what they look like, we want to know more
about their personality, their family background,
their social standing, all these things,
and one looks in portraits to see what one can discover
about the personality of the sitter. With Gauguin, we largely have to revisit and reconsider these ideas and these hopes. He gives us very little of that. We are lucky if we know
what the sitter actually looked like, even more lucky if we know who it is. And he did that
by deliberately fusing reality with emotions, with associations, with dreams
and his aspirations as an artist, going beyond observation and creating what he called
an abstraction. And here I should say immediately
not abstraction as we think about it today
as non-representative art, but something
that was removed from reality and was more focused
on the artistic expression. In 1885, when Gauguin had decided to become
a full-time artist, he painted this self-portrait
presenting him as such. It is done in Copenhagen in the attic of the family house
of his wife, Mette Gad, whom he had married earlier in France. And he takes on a very traditional role as showing himself in front of the easel,
with his palette close by. The style is still a little dark. It has impressionist overtones
in the handling of the paint. And it shows, sort of,
how he at that moment decides to go forward, because this is the last time that he tried to combine
the existence of an artist with a more traditional role
of father of a family who was providing
and had, actually, a conventional job. He failed on all fronts pretty miserably. I should just give you
a little bit of background. We’re talking about a French artist
now living in Copenhagen for a while, he stayed only for a few months because his attempt to establish himself
in the Danish art scene was not a success at all,
they really hated him. And this sort of moving around
is very typical for Gauguin. It started, actually,
when he was very young. He was born in France, but as a very young child he spent some years in Peru in Lima, where some part
of his mother’s family came from. And he came back for schooling
in France, in Orléans in Paris, and then went into the merchant navy and sailed around the world,
at least once, maybe twice, knew all the seas,
all the ports in the Mediterranean, in the northern seas as well, and even his military service
he spent in the Navy. When he came back from that,
via family connections, he got a job as a stockbroker, made money, started to collect art,
got married, had children, all the things that seemed to be
a successful bourgeois existence. But, at the same time,
he got really interested in art and started dabbling as a painter, first in his free time
with some other friends, and then more seriously, going forward. When he lost his job as a stockbroker, he sort of decided not to find another one because it was such a great opportunity
to become a full-time artist. What that meant for his family
was a different story because, of course,
he barely made any money. He always thought
that he was going to make the big jump and become famous and make a lot of money, and each time,
throughout his whole career, he sort of failed on that front. Going forward, from 1885, he left his family behind in Copenhagen and went off, first back to Paris, and went out to Brittany, the area in France which at that time was still believed
to be rural and authentic, far away from a city’s sophistication. And he very strongly began
in his self-portraits, self-portraits, of course, a handy object, because you have yourself always,
you only need a mirror, he started to develop
an identity as an artist. And we see that in this work,
quite strikingly, where he presents himself
in front of two of his own art objects: on the left, ‘The Yellow Christ’,
a painting he had just finished, which was hanging, actually,
in his studio on the wall; and, on the right, a pot,
of which he claimed that it was also a self-portrait. Now, this pot still exists,
and you will find it in the exhibition. And he wrote about it quite extensively and said that it was meant to represent
the head of Gauguin the savage. Now, the word savage, for women,
was a huge compliment. It was something to be striving for, something that was honest,
that was close to nature, that was not corrupted
by Western or modern values. So, he used a term like that
throughout his career as something that he wanted to be, he wanted to identify with
in the most positive way. And in another letter to a friend, he wrote about this work: “The character of stoneware
is that of a very hot fire, and this figure, which has been scorched
in the ovens of hell, is, I think, a strong expression
of that character. Like an artist glimpsed by Dante on his tour of the Inferno. A poor devil,
all doubled up to endure his pain.” Very dramatic wording,
he tended to like those kind of things. And it also shows
that he worked in each medium trying to find
the right form of expression. He tried out all kinds of media:
sculpture, carving, pottery, like this work, painting, of course, printmaking. And each time,
he tried to work with a medium to give it its most complete expression. And this expression of pain, the artist who is suffering, someone who is very much
in the “ovens of hell”, as he very nicely described it, this idea of the image of an artist
was very much at the forefront, and when he used the figure of Christ
in this same context, in this quite elaborate composition, this is also the suffering
that he is trying to evoke. Now, this idea with the identification
with Christ’s suffering becomes even more obvious in other works, where he goes to the point of
putting himself into the role of Christ, assuming this figure. While the work was officially titled
‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’, showing that moment before the Passion, of dreariness, of great fear and loneliness, Gauguin wrote diligently in his letters,
even published an article in which he said this is a self-portrait,
it’s my own portrait as much as it is presenting
the suffering of Christ. Later, in 1896, when he had gone
for the second time to Tahiti, and never came back from Polynesia
until the end of his life, he again made a painting,
a portrait of himself in the figure of Christ, calling it this time very explicitly
‘Self-portrait (Near Golgotha)’. And in the background, on the left here, you can actually see
the hill of Golgotha with the crosses, making a very clear reference. This dress he’s wearing
could be a painter’s smock, it could be a hospital gown because he had just been released
from hospital when he painted this. He suffered many different types of
illnesses throughout the rest of his life. Or it could be a reference
to Old Testament garbs that would fit into this imagery
he was trying to evoke. The same kind of image comes back
at the very end of his life, the last self-portrait, which he painted
only weeks before he died. And here we see him without any symbols, no references, just the man himself. And we are very much drawn, maybe, to this solemn expression of the artist
who’s facing us, bare, no positioning taken, ready to face his end,
far away from all his friends and family. But, around the same time
when he’s making this portrait, he wrote in a manuscript,
that he wanted to have published in Paris: “You wish to know who I am;
my works are not enough for you. Even at this moment, as I write, I am revealing only
what I want to reveal.” So, even here, he’s giving us
his idea of what he wants us to see, not the inner side of the soul. Self-portraits could have
lots of different purposes for Gauguin, and he used them very cleverly. So, for example, this spectacular work, where he is wearing
a Breton sort of sweater, which refers
to his experiences in Brittany, is, at first view, something that looks rather traditional, with a view out of the window, to the
right, and then sort of a background. But, if you look closely, not only have we had
a hard time to identify what this view
out of the window should be, but this green background, which at first
may be wallpaper or something like that, is actually absolutely flat. So, it is almost an abstract surface against which his head is coming forward. So, very modern in its conception,
in its use of colour, something Gauguin was striving for, because he was not only keen
on innovating the content of his work, but also the way, how,
he presented his imagery. And most interestingly about this, this work had two dedications. On the lower left, there was one
which was to his friend Laval, a painter, most likely,
with whom he worked in Brittany. But, later on, he needed to make a gift
to another artist who had become rather important,
Eugène Carrière, a symbolist who had
lots of success in Paris already, and it was really handy
for Gauguin to associate with him. Carrière had painted
a portrait of Gauguin, and, as a thank you, Gauguin quickly rededicated this work to his cher ami, Carrière, and on the upper corner,
“à l’ami Carrière”, and gave it as a gift to the artist, hoping, of course,
to nurture this important relationship. In other works, like this one, which he painted
after his first trip to Tahiti, he went there from 1891 to ’93, he came back and thought
I have now all this experience, all this new imagery which I’ve created, and now I’m going to become
the real leader of the avant-garde in Paris at the time, it didn’t work out either. But he had great ambitions,
so he presented himself not only with reference to Brittany again
in this striped sweater, but also with objects
that he had brought back. You see in the background a sculpture of the goddess Hina,
the goddess of creation, which he had brought back from Tahiti, and he had painted a studio canary yellow and had put all the objects and paintings
he had brought back from there onto these walls to show it
to friends and colleagues and people who may be interested
in buying them, and maybe this yellow stripe
in the middle there may be a reference to that yellow studio,
we are not quite sure. It is a persona that he is creating. It is not the person. It is the widely-travelled artist, very possibly thinking
about what he’s done, presenting himself
to his Parisian audience. In other cases, he could make very specific references
to other art, something he excelled in doing,
because he was very much aware not only what was going on in
contemporary art, in his own art circles, but also those artists
he admired very much in the past. And this work,
‘Bonjour, Monsieur Gauguin’, which he painted in Brittany
and shows a Briton landscape, with him standing at a gate, being met by a peasant woman, who is either greeting him
or barring his way. The title is a reference
to a very famous work by Gustave Courbet,
‘Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet’, and it was in Montpellier at the time, bought by a well-known French collector, who had put it there into the museum. Gauguin and Van Gogh had gone in 1888 to visit this museum
and had seen and discussed this work. And because it was
a well-known work by Courbet, he could be sure that his contemporaries would immediately understand
the reference that he was making here. The big difference is, of course, in
the expression that Gauguin is choosing. While Courbet is very confidently
and cheerfully meeting his collector, who is bowing almost before him,
accompanied by his servant, Gauguin is gloomy, shrouded in his coat, hat pulled down,
being not very cheerful at all, and one wonders what is going on
in the conversation that is taking place. Of course, it also underscores once more the idea of him being the outsider,
the one who is alone. Now, I just mentioned that Van Gogh and Gauguin
had visited Montpellier. This, of course, happened in 1888, when, for two months, from the end
of October to the end of December, the two artists lived together
in Van Gogh’s yellow house in Arles. Van Gogh had been there already for
a while, he was looking for companionship, and he tried to convince Gauguin
for quite a while to come down and stay with him. It was a tumultuous time. It was filled with tension, with huge discussions about art. The two artists were quite different
in many opinions. They had very different ways of working, and they were stuck in a very tiny studio,
or a very small house, which made things complicated at times. And, you will all know,
that at the end of December, the whole working relationship broke up with Van Gogh having a nervous breakdown
and mutilating his ear, while Gauguin got out of there
as quickly as he could. Now, having said all that, at the same time,
this was an incredibly creative time. They worked together, and, because Van Gogh was also
extremely interested in portraiture, he thought that it was
one of the greatest art forms, they discussed portraiture a lot,
the models, but also they made portraits side by side. And in this case,
you see here Madame Roulin, who was the wife of the postman Roulin, who was a friend of Vincent van Gogh, and they convinced her to pose. Van Gogh made many paintings of her, later to be turned into the famous
Berceuse paintings, you may know those, but at this point, they set Madame Roulin
in a chair, most likely in the studio. and while Van Gogh painted a scene of Madame Roulin with a window
and flowerpots on the outside, Gauguin chose
a very different point of view, maybe because he was standing differently
and had a different viewpoint, but I think also
that he was very interested in giving a particular expression. Madame Roulin, while we can
recognise her in this portrait, has a very mask-like figure, she’s almost like a sculpture in the way she is presented,
so motionless, and the outlines
of her full-bodied figure, these dark black lines, emphasise the massiveness of her
even more. Instead of a view,
Gauguin put his own picture behind it. It is the ‘Blue Trees’
which he had painted just before, and he makes that
the backdrop of the composition. And while Van Gogh loved to use impasto, heavy application of paint
on his canvases, Gauguin abhorred that. And, in order to make his point
as clearly as possible, he used the thinnest possible
paint application that he could find, and you can see that, in particular,
on the blue wall, next to the chair,
where it’s almost a Cézannesque-like, very thin arrangement of brushstrokes. Another work where we know, from Van Gogh’s letters,
that they painted side by side, is this work of Madame Ginoux, the café owner in Arles where Van Gogh went very regularly, and with whom he was befriended. Now, Van Gogh writes in a letter that she posed for them,
sitting at a table for an hour. He dashed off a painting
in that short period of time, while Gauguin took all the time to make
this very careful and detailed drawing, not only, again,
with these strong outlines which we saw already
in the previous painting, but when you look closely, and
you can only see that in the real work, it has a lot of shading
and delicate nuances in the way he treated it, so he really took his time. And then, afterwards, he went and made a painting,
not with a model in front of him, but only having an aide-mémoire
with this drawing. And he painted Madame Ginoux in the night café,
and the title ‘The Night café’, this work is not in the exhibition, is a reference to a night café that Van Gogh had painted
only a few months earlier, and which Gauguin had admired very much. So, you can see, there’s a lot
of competition going on between the two, and it goes even further. When Gauguin had left Arles,
he had left the drawing behind, and he wrote to Vincent in,
I think, February of 1889, you can keep the drawing,
it’s yours to have. And Van Gogh appreciated that because they continued
to stay in contact via letters. Actually, more than a year later, he took it as a model to make five paintings of Madame Ginoux, which he created
on the basis of Gauguin’s drawing. So, there is also a lot of back and forth,
a lot of collaboration, going on between those two artists. In Brittany, many of Gauguin’s works, he went there in ’86 and ’88 and again ’89 and ’90, he was for periods of time
going back and forth also to Paris, he painted many peasant figures in the fields,
in their natural surroundings, and a few portraits, of which one is this. It may be the daughter
of a Breton aristocrat, whom he presented here,
we are not quite sure, but the coat of arms
may be a reference to that. It is set with a window view – in this case,
we know that Gauguin had a studio with great windows over the fields – to look into the Breton landscape. And on the right side
is this very strange figure, it may be a sculpture, it may be something
Gauguin brought back from his travels, which he carved himself,
or found or imagined. All these things are possible. And I think more important
than the reference to the aristocratic family
of the young woman, he’s playing with opposites: this more primitivist sculpture
on the right, contrasting it with the great history of France on the left. And these sort of polarising positions
is something very typical for Gauguin, and we can see that beautifully
in this work. In 1891, I mentioned it already, he left France to go to Tahiti. It was a long journey, but Tahiti was, like all of Polynesia, a colony of France. So, you could rely on colonial services, on schools, on hospitals. As a Frenchman,
you had a lot of privilege going there, even though Gauguin was once again broke and didn’t go with much money. But he went for… Having all these advantages in mind, he went to find a more primitive, a more pure kind of landscape, an environment, a culture,
that was different from the Western world. Of course, he knew that missionaries
had been in Tahiti for many years, and even though he knew that
a lot of the culture had changed already, he was nevertheless disappointed
when he came and found it
so much westernised and colonised. However, early on, he got a commission of Suzanne Bembridge, an Anglo-Tahitian woman who had connections
with one of the royal families of Tahiti, and he wrote back to his wife right away: “They are beating down my door. I have so many people who want
to have their portrait painted.” He had just completed this one,
and she didn’t like it at all. So, that was the end of that career. Now, instead, he started more and more to use local women, Tahitian women, as models. Now, here we get to a point where… Since many, many years, we’ve all believed what Gauguin told us. That is, he wrote a very beautiful
autobiography, ‘Noa Noa’, which he published
after this trip to Tahiti, starting in 1893
and worked on it for many years, he presents it
as his experiences of Tahiti and explanations of his paintings. Much of our research,
and with the wonderful colleagues that we’ve worked with on this exhibition, has shown that ‘Noa Noa’
is largely fiction, based on other novels by other writers, based on travel accounts
from other travellers, and maybe a little bit of truth in there. What truth, we do not know. Which means that all these women, which we have identified in great detail
for many years, are totally unknown to us, which creates
a really interesting situation because we would immediately believe
that this is a portrait, even though Gauguin
did not give it a name. He called it ‘Woman of the Mango’, and we see her as such, but it is not intended
to be a generic person. He wants us to believe
that this is a live person. We don’t even know if there was only
one model for her or if he used several, but he presents his works as portraits. Think of Old Master portraits. I’m always thinking of Mannerist
portraiture when I see this work, with a swirling dress, her way, how she’s turning,
the attribute in her hand. All these are things
that his audience in Paris would have recognised
as elements of portraiture, so he could, supporting it with his tales, very well make everyone believe
that this was a known person, possibly Tehamana,
a young woman with whom he lived. This is the only work which he gave
a name, ‘Tehamana Has Many Parents’, which refers to… …the traditions in Tahiti, where a child could actually live
with several parents, and could be handed from family to family. That was a very accepted
and long-standing tradition there, and this is what he refers to. Now, Gauguin lived with a young woman
of 13 or 14 years old called Tehamana. For us today, a horrific idea,
to even think of such a concept. At the time, however, these women
were considered young women. And it was an accepted tradition in Tahiti and other places, we must imagine the age of consent
at that time was 12 years. Unbelievable for today’s standards,
thank goodness. At the same time, all the stories that Gauguin told
about living with this or other women may be imagined and he may have just been bragging,
we do not know. However, what we do know
is that this woman is very much of the colonial presence. And that means, she’s wearing
what is called a missionary dress. And this was a kind
of full-body covered dress, demure, supposedly, which was introduced by the missionaries because they found it
totally indecent and unacceptable that Tahitian women
would walk around half-naked. And, so, they introduced them and sort
of forced them on the women to wear. By the time Gauguin arrived, this whole thing had become fashion. I mean, this is how strange
history can become. And when a young Tahitian woman
wanted to dress up, she put on her own fine missionary dress. And we see this woman called
Tehamana here, with a fan in her hand, with beautiful flowers in her hair, very much in a portrait pose,
facing us in a rather regal way. The background, however,
is quite different. We have hieroglyphs derived from Easter Island tablets. We have a figure of Hina, you remember the sculpture that I showed
you earlier in one of the self-portraits. Here are heads of Tupapaus, the spirits of the dead. And, so, Gauguin very cleverly
and very beautifully fuses the mystic past of the island with the colonial presence
in such a painting. And this construction,
this… making portraits that are derived from various sources and play with the expectations
of the viewer was very strong. And I’ll show you another example
where this is even more extreme. Here we see a nude woman
in an exotic landscape. So, what is going on here? Actually, the head comes
from a portrait of his mother, his mother, as a young girl. He had this portrait photograph with him and he even had painted a portrait of her. So, he uses that for this work, which he titled ‘Exotic Eve’. But the bottom part,
the body, is also not real. It comes from a temple
of Borobudur in Java, and Gauguin had collected
and brought with him photographs of the friezes of this temple
and used them in various ways. And actually here,
you see exactly the figure and the tree, which she’s touching,
right next to it. So, it’s a highly constructed work of art that says more
about the richness of sources, the expressiveness
that Gauguin was seeking, rather than the life of Tahiti
that he was presenting here. Even a work like this one, another of those models
which has been identified as Tehamana, there’s again no documents that give any indication
that she was that, but what Gauguin did do, in addition to giving her
a missionary dress, which were much more subdued in colour
than this brilliant pink tone, which dominates this fabulous composition, he places her in a rocking chair in a pose that was very typical
for Polynesian women in photographs. And, in Paris, people would know
photographs of that kind because of exhibitions, because of
the World Exposition that had taken place. So, Gauguin very much plays
to what is known about Tahiti. At the same time, he also had a photograph
of a work by Camille Corot, who had painted a woman
in just the same pose. So, when he sends this home, he of course knows that people
will make these connections and will recognise some of that, giving him the idea that…
or giving him the advantage of having something exotic, unusual, brilliant in colour, extraordinary. I mean, those colours were just
a huge surprise to the Parisian audience. And, at the same time,
there were these elements of familiarity. Also, the melancholic pose
of this young woman is something that, of course, since Dürer
had been known very well and was something recognisable once more. When he goes back to France, he also goes back to Brittany again. And here we see another construction, where he uses the piety
of the Breton peasants as the starting point for his model, with a now very vividly coloured landscape from Brittany in the background, and he dresses the woman
in a missionary dress from Tahiti, so creating not only an incredibly
colourful and beautiful work, but fusing the different cultures in order to create imagery
that was new and different. The idea of very much
constructing a composition is something that you can see
already very early on in this work of his daughter Aline,
which he painted and where he juxtaposes her,
the little child on a couch, with this enormous still life. This tension that is created
makes this picture so exciting. Also, a few years later,
Clovis, one of his sons, who at this point still has long hair,
is asleep on a table top, and is juxtaposed
with this enormous tankard, giving a very strange tension
into the composition, and the wallpaper seems to be
the dreams that the child is having… …at the time. This same idea he brings to the fore when he starts moving away
from the impressionist brushstroke that you could see in the early works, and when he’s trying to forge
a language of his own. Here, we have a profile of Charles Laval,
one of his friends, who became a follower of his in Brittany, and with whom he went travelling
to Martinique. Laval is sort of relegated to the sides. What he’s looking at
is a still life of Gauguin’s creation. Not only is the pot one
that Gauguin had made, but also the still life is, of course,
his arrangement. And it reminds us, maybe,
of the apples of Cézanne. Cézanne was one of Gauguin’s great heroes. So, the portrait becomes quite secondary to the story about Gauguin’s own ambitions
and his own work, a work like this one, of the Polish painter Slewinski, who came to Paris, met Gauguin, and also followed him
as one of the many young artists who wanted to learn and work with him. Also, here he uses a composition that
is very much traceable to other artists such as Edgar Degas and Gustave Courbet, where a huge bouquet of flowers is the centrepiece of the composition and the portrait seems to be
pushed almost to the side. So, very conscious references
to the artists he admired, to those whose traditions
he wanted to continue. Also, this print, a portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé,
the famous symbolist poet, whom Gauguin met in 1890, I think, shows that same tendency. What you see behind
the very recognisable image of Mallarmé is a raven above his head, but this is a reference, on the one hand,
to Mallarmé’s French translation of ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Both Mallarmé and Poe were very, very much
in fashion at the time, in the contemporary circles,
very much appreciated. And, as Gauguin knew very well, the translation of Poe by Mallarmé had been illustrated by Édouard Manet, who had used the image of the raven
quite dramatically in his illustrations. So, Gauguin ties
this very beautiful line for himself with Mallarmé, with Poe, with Manet, all major figures
in the Parisian art scene at the time. Now, this is the work
which started the whole investigation. It is a sculpture in the collection
of the National Gallery of Canada, and it shows Meijer de Haan,
a Dutch artist, whom Gauguin met in Paris via Theo Van Gogh, the brother of Vincent, and de Haan, who had been trained
as an artist in the Netherlands, decided to change
his way of painting completely and worked under the tutelage of Gauguin to change his way of working. And they worked together
in Pont-Aven quite significantly, in particular, in the small hamlet
of Le Pouldu on the coast, where they lived in a little inn and decorated the dining room of this inn. Ceilings, doors, walls, everything. And in that context also, this sculpture was made. The sculpture is extraordinary,
Meijer de Haan was tiny, one metre 49. Gauguin creates an over life-size, even if this is a little bigger
than the real thing, an over life-sized sculpture, which does not only make a pun
on de Haan’s name with the rooster on top, de Haan means rooster, but it has also branches sprouting on the sides of this oak log. And it seems to be a suggestion
of the artistic creativity which was one of the big topics
at the time that these two artists were discussing. And you see here another painting,
also of de Haan, which was also meant for the decoration. And apart from the very dramatic angles, which show the interest
in Japanese prints, we also see books on the table, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, and Thomas Carlyle’s ‘Sartor Resartus’. And these books, among other things, show the interest in artistic creativity and the role of the artists in the world. And these were discussions
that de Haan brought to Gauguin, and it became an intellectual exchange that was extremely important
for Gauguin’s thinking. And it seems that the use
of de Haan as a model was very much to identify
this element of the artistic process. And one can see that here,
in this drawing of around the same time, maybe done in preparation
for the painting, where you see that Gauguin
is reducing Meijer de Haan almost to his essential elements, which he would then use even later. And you will see two more works
in the exhibition where de Haan looms,
I’m showing you one here, which is this extraordinary work,
which I would call sort of his… …artistic testament, almost,
at the end of his life. At this point, he is in the Marquesas, he has moved on from Tahiti,
even further away. And we see Meijer de Haan looming
very strangely in the background with two nude figures. Now, in this case, again, this is not an observed composition at all,
the figures neither. De Haan is long dead, he’s definitely passed out
of Gauguin’s life many years ago, and he just remembers
the image of the man, put into a missionary dress
in a very unusual way. In the middle, the centre figure
is actually an androgynous figure, which is directly derived again
from the temple freezes of Borobudur, the photographs were still with Gauguin. And only the right shows a Maori woman, which may have been modelled
on a real person. Now, this is a scene
which looks from paradise, maybe with the devil looking in, but it is all constructed, and it is at a moment when Gauguin
is thinking and writing extensively about the interrelationship
of the world religions. It is a topic which
in the late 19th century is very important to many artists, and Gauguin writes about that extensively. And we could interpret this work as Meijer de Haan representing
the Judeo-Christian tradition, also that tradition which, of course,
destroyed much of Polynesia with its Western influences. In the centre, the Eastern religion
in the Buddha figure. And, on the right,
the Maori religions or histories represented by the Marquesan woman. An extraordinary work
from the very end of his life. The idea of making statements
about artistic purpose and about the way that you look at art and what your own position is
within the artistic tradition is also something which in this work,
again in the last years of his life, comes very much to the fore,
the painting of sunflowers. Gauguin had admired
Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ immensely. When he saw them in Arles in 1888, they hung in his bedroom. And he writes about that beautifully, that he woke up to these golden flowers and everything was yellow
and it smelled so beautifully. He writes in an article
in the 90s about this. And in the late 90s, he asks a friend to send him flower seeds,
among them sunflowers, and he plants them in his garden and then paints four still lifes
of these sunflowers at a moment when he’s also writing
and thinking about his legacy. Van Gogh, you should know,
had died in 1890, had become quite famous by this time,
there were lots of exhibitions, there was lots of attention
for these artists already, ‘Sunflowers’, of course, very well known. And Gauguin is sitting there in
the South Seas, far away from everyone, trying with letters and manuscripts to make sure that he’s not forgotten and
that people remember how important he is. He writes at that point, again,
that, of course, everything Van Gogh learned
was thanks to Gauguin, and… never a small personality. And he, also at this time, feels this need that he has to bring across his version, his vision of these sunflowers. He creates completely different
compositions than Van Gogh in this horizontal format,
with this fabulous exotic pot, a Japanese bowl in the front, and references to other artists, whom, by the way,
Gauguin and Van Gogh discussed very lively when they were together in Arles:
Puvis de Chavannes’ famous ‘Hope’ and a work by Edgar Degas, of which he had reproductions
with him, again. He said, at some point, “I’m traveling
with a whole group of friends.” And those were,
that was his musée imaginaire, those were all those images
that he had taken with him on his travels, so that he was much in contact
with his European roots while seeking
such non-Western inspiration. And one can see in this work his homage to Van Gogh
and his competition, and it went on to the very end. Thank you so much.

Dereck Turner

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