A neighbor friend took me along to the De Young this morning on an extra ticket to see the Gauguin exhibit. I hadn’t looked at his paintings since the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux-de-Provence, FR almost eight years ago.
And this exhibit featured wood carving, pottery and realia as well as some of Gauguin’s paintings. This curation told the story of his ambition.
I find it interesting to see what lands on my eye and mind at any given time, like when I walk a beach and tune in to a certain color shape or kind of shell or rock. My collection at the De Young today was more focused on Gauguin’s early paintings — and instead of the Tahitian portraits in lavish color, I tuned in and found myself re-visiting his almost-monochromatic snow scenes.
These paintings are not large or showy, but I detected that fresh beginner’s mind, the joy-in-the-paint as well as the study of the subject. They were lovely.
I was surprised to learn how intentionally Gauguin was promoting his later work in the tropics as something spectacularly new to the art world. However, his first portrait of a Tahitian woman was European painting through and through. Self-conscious portraiture.
A stock-broker deciding to become a painter is an interesting career turn, and I found his early works full of a natural feel for pigment and light. The self-conscious, moody paintings of his Tahitian companions (while his wife raised 5 children alone) seemed colder in a way. I had expected warmth. Vibrancy. They had a dark tone.
When I saw close-ups of some of his exotic paintings seven years ago in the Caves of Light show, combined with Van Gogh’s paintings and an incredible mix of classical music, the liveliness of painting showed up. But today in the gallery, his later work looked sad to me, even with bold colors.
And, odd as it seems, I found more play and sense of freedom in his early oils.