Art Institute exhibit illustrates Gauguin’s eclectic spirituality

Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ

Paul Gauguin. Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ. 1890-1. Musée d’Orsay

My article appears in Chicago Catholic. Here’s the lede:

When Paul Gauguin arrived in Tahiti in 1981 sporting long hair and a wide-brimmed hat, the French, post-impressionist painter expected a culture that the West had largely left untainted. But the locals he met, who called him “taata vahine” (man-woman), weren’t noble savages.

“From his experience in the merchant marine, Gauguin was too well traveled to not have expected some colonial rule and resulting changes in Tahiti,” says Allison Perelman, an Art Institute of Chicago research associate. “However, the extent to which the island had been Westernized did shock him, and living in the capital, Papeete, he felt that he almost might as well have been back in Paris.”

Hoping to encounter indigenous culture, Gauguin was dismayed to see the ways missionaries — both Catholic and Protestant — had shaped the culture. That’s a narrative that surfaces several times in the Art Institute’s exhibit “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist” (through Sept. 10).

Read the full piece here.

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