You only think you know Paul Gauguin

 

Go to the Art Institute of Chicago to see some fascinating paintings of  Breton and Tahitian  women or of Martinique landscapes by Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin.

Gauguin, 1889 "In the Waves (Ondine I), oil on canvas Photo taken at the exhibit by Jodie Jacobs
Gauguin, 1889 “In the Waves (Ondine I), oil on canvas.
Photo taken at the exhibit by Jodie Jacobs

Or go to the museum to see extraordinary ceramics by Gauguin. He called them his “monstrosities. They really aren’t.

Or go the museum to see Gauguin’s fine prints and woodwork.

But no matter what you expect to see in the Gauguin exhibit now at the Art Institute of Chicago through Sept. 10, 2017, you will be astonished.

As Gloria Groom, curator of “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist” says in a video on the museum site, “Just when you think you know what he is doing he does something extraordinary and surprises you.”

What you will see are images that may start as drawings or be used on a ceramic piece and end up in paintings. You will also see decorative art.

But also look up on the walls. There are quotes by Gauguin that offer insight into the man, the painter, the philosopher, the traveler and the artist who influenced other artists. So don’t hurry through the exhibit.

“I must work seven or eight months at a stretch absorbing the character of the people of the country, which is essential for good painting… You must remember that I have a dual nature,” says a quote high on one of the exhibit walls.

The introductory panel at the entrance explains the exhibit’s title. “As an alchemist converts one element into another, Gauguin believed in the artist’s ability to take raw materials and transform them into something entirely new.”

Paul Gauguin 1890-91 "Portrait of the artist with the Yellow Christ" Musee d'Orsay. Photo thanks to Art Institute of Chicago
Paul Gauguin 1890-91 “Portrait of the artist with the Yellow Christ” Musee d’Orsay. Photo thanks to Art Institute of Chicago

Look for objects including furniture that Gauguin decorated. Also take time to watch some of the videos that show how the artist worked with different materials.

A short movie near the entrance talks about trying to define Gauguin’s style and changing focus. It offers more insight into the artist and his works.

In the video on the Art Institute site, Groom says, “This man is so amazingly layered. He’s so complex.”

So, it is very likely that what “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist” does for viewers is introduce them to an artist they only thought they knew.

The Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute requires tickets. Tip: get the ear phones available near the exhibit entrance. They are quire helpful. The exhibit will go to Grand Palais in Paris in October 2017.

The Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois. For ticket and other information call (312) 443-3600 and visit AIC.

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