Saturday, June 28, 2014

Peter Paul Rubens

Today's birthday guy is one of the giants of 17th century art. Hugely popular, he also served as a diplomat, trying to prevent the lethal wars of that century. In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.

Rubens's energetic Baroque style blends his northern European sense of realism with the grandeur and monumentality he saw in Italian art. His characteristic free, expressive technique also captured joie de vivre.

June 28, 1577. Sir Peter Paul Rubens (28 June 1577 - 30 May 1640), was a German-born Flemish Baroque painter, and a proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasised movement, colour, and sensuality. He is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. In this image: A visitor looks at the oil painting "Léda et le cygne" de 1600 by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens at the Louvre-Lens museum in Lens during the latest exhibition. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN.

Earth and Water

In all of his works—religious paintings, tapestry designs, book illustrations, and other projects—Rubens exhibited extraordinary learning and imagination.

The Three Graces

Venus at the mirror

Rubens' Drawings:

Twenty works at the Getty:

Essay on Ruben's drawings plus link to free download (PDF file): Essay on Ruben's drawings plus link to free pdf file on them: 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Whatever am I going to do this weekend?

Here are a few suggestions:

The original color guide, 271 years before Pantone

✦ Hundreds of years before the appearance on Pantone Color Guide, a Dutch artist known as "A. Boogert" created a hand-written and hand-painted, nearly 800-page book, Traite des couleurs servant a la peinture a l'eau (1692), at E-Corpus, to serve as a guide to painting and color.

According to Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel who translated part of the introduction, the color book was intended as an educational guide. The irony being there was only a single copy that was probably seen by very few eyes.

 View the book, kept at Bibliotheque Mejanes, Aix-en-Provence, France, at the link to get an idea of just how extraordinary it is.

Read a Colossal post about the book or view the high resolution images here. (Note: Accessing the book requires patience and more than one try.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Oh Suarez - beware of the consequences

Oh, ! Beware of the consequences! Royal 6 E VI f. 503v

The urge to bite must have been irresistable but any victory will be a pyrrhic one- as explained by this essay in the TLS

But the pleasure swells in a brief space of time. “Creatures of a day! What is man? What is he not? / He is the dream of a shadow”. The victory ode wanes into pain and melancholy. It is the same in Pindar’s earliest ode, written for the winner of the running event in 498 BCE, where Hippocleas, the runner, like Perseus chasing the Hyperboreans, touches the hem of the blessed. But Perseus returns to mundane life again. Like the victor in the games, his bliss is ephemeral.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Quiz from the Asian Art Museum: Which Gorgeous artwork are you?

You know, you’re a real piece of work—a work of art, in fact! Are you calm or chaotic? Tacky or tasteful? Grotesque or genteel? Take this quiz to find out which Gorgeous artwork you are!

You are the Buddhist Deity Simhavaktra Dakini
You are as fiery and strong-willed as you are protective and compassionate. You can be a bit of a hothead, however, and your friends know to give you a wide berth when you’re off on one of your rants. You love loud music, spicy food and watching things blow up. You have a taste for gore that would make Dario Argento cower under his bed. No one can refute your magnetic personality, however—you’re always the center of attention!
I don't know about the loud music or gore unless it's Wagner and my former supervisors but the rest isn't that far off. I have two planets in Sag and a Leo Moon - fire is my element. 

I would love to think I have a magentic personality but that's probably overstated too. Oh well. A woman can dream.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Born today in 1859, Tanner was the first African-American painter to gain international renown. His father was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, his mother an escaped slave

 In 1879, he enrolled to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was the only black student and became a favorite of the painter Thomas Eakins, who had recently started teaching there. He also made other connections among artists, including Robert Henri. In the late 1890s he was sponsored for a trip to Palestine by Rodman Wanamaker, who was impressed by his paintings of Biblical themes.

Gateway to Morocco

 The Annunciation

It was his painting, "The Banjo Lesson, "that turned out to be not only popular but very radical for the time. The painting shows an elderly black man teaching a boy, assumed to be his grandson, how to play the banjo.

This deceptively simple-looking work explores several important themes. Blacks had long been stereotyped as entertainers in American culture, and the image of a black man playing the banjo appears throughout American art of the late 19th century.

Previous paintings reduced blacks to a ministrel stereotype. Tanner's painting is sensitive and emotional, showing a respect for the subjects combined with painterly skill. 

Tanner undertakes the difficult endeavor of portraying two separate and varying light sources. A natural white, blue glow from outside enters from the left while the warm light from a fireplace is apparent on the right. The figures are illuminated where the two light sources meet; some have hypothesized this as a manifestation of Tanner’s situation in transition between two worlds, his American past and his newfound home in France.

 He moved to Paris in 1891 to study, and spent the rest of his life there, being readily accepted in French artistic circles

In his autobiography The Story of an Artist’s Life, Tanner describes the burden of racism:
I was extremely timid and to be made to feel that I was not wanted, although in a place where I had every right to be, even months afterwards caused me sometimes weeks of pain. Every time any one of these disagreeable incidents came into my mind, my heart sank, and I was anew tortured by the thought of what I had endured, almost as much as the incident itself.
The Flight to Egypt
In 1899, Tanner married a white American singer, Jessie Olssen. The couple's only child, Jesse, was born in 1903. The couple's only child, Jesse Ossawa, was born in New York in 1903. Their marriage influenced Tanner's decision to settle permanently in France, where the family divided its time between Paris and a farm near Etaples in Normandy.

Daniel in the Lion's Den
 Throughout much of the rest of his life, even as he shifted his focus to religious scenes, Tanner continued to receive praise and honors for his work, including being named honorary chevalier of the Order of the Legion Honor—France's most distinguished award—in 1923. Four years later, Tanner was made a full academician of the National Academy of Design—becoming the first African-American to ever receive the distinction.

Henry Ossawa Tanner died at his Paris home on May 25, 1937.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy Birthday Kurt Schwitters

Born June 20, 1887. Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters was a German painter who was born in Hanover, Germany. Schwitters worked in several genres and media, including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures. In this image: Das Undbild, 1919, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

"I KNOW that I am important as a factor in the development of art and always will remain so," Dadaist Kurt Schwitters wrote in 1931. "I say this with all possible emphasis so that nobody afterwards can say: The poor man didn't even know how important he was.' But he knew and after viewing the show in Berkeley, the viewer will know it as well.

Back in 2011, I wrote a two-part review for the show at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents 'Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible'

Forrest Bess. Before Man.

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents "Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible," the first museum retrospective of the eccentric outsider painter in more than twenty years. Organized by the Menil Collection in Houston, the Berkeley presentation features approximately forty of Bess’s works, dating from 1946 to 1970 with an installation of archival materials curated by American artist Robert Gober.

Born in Bay City, Texas in 1911, Bess's childhood was that of a child of migrant oil field workers, wandering from oil strike to oil strike. It was not a childhood that offered much sympathy or understanding for a boy trying to understand why he was different from other boys. As a child he admired the paintings of his maternal grandmother and took a few basic art lessons from a neighbor but largely taught himself to paint by copying illustrations from books and magazines.

In 1932, Bess entered to college to do study architecture but was diverted into religion, psychology and anthropology, the foundation of his later theories. He dropped out of college, wandered the Southwest, lived in Mexico, and worked in the oilfields. During WW II, he enlisted in the army and worked painting camouflage. While in the army he made a pass at a solder, was roughly rebuffed, beaten badly and suffered a nervous breakdown. The army doctor suggested that Bess make art as therapy. What emerged from that was an art made by a man who knew that making art would save his life. There is a saying "Art Saves Lives." As long as Bess could make art, it did indeed save his life.

In 1947 he went to live at his parents' bait camp on Chinquapin Bay, off the south Texas coast, 20 miles from Bay City. He remained there for 27 years, fishing during the day, painting irregularly at night, copying his visions in a sketchbook in the morning. Bess lived his life there in virtual isolation, on a strip of land accessible only by boat. "I try to tell myself that only by breaking completely away from society can I arrive at a reasonable existence." He loved the solitude, which gave him time to paint his visions and follow his own path. His work came from visions which he saw on the inside of his eyelids during sleep and which he captured on a notebook, always kept by his bedside.

But he did make contact with the New York art world and was represented by Betty Parsons. During his most creative period, 1949 through 1967, Parsons arranged six solo exhibitions at her New York City gallery, showing along Rothko and Pollock. Although he never sold much and his prices were rock bottom low, he became the insider's artist with a small, dedicated band of collectors.

In the 1950s, he also began a lifelong correspondence with art professor and author Meyer Schapiro and sexual identity researcher Dr. John Money. In his letters to both Shapiro and Dr. Money (which were donated to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art and some of which are on view at the exhibit), Bess makes it clear that his paintings were only part of a grander theory, based on his versions of alchemy, Jungian philosophy and the rituals of Australian aborigines.  He believed that by uniting the male and female sides of his personality would guarantee was the key to immortality and eventually operated on himself, creating a fistula in his genitalia.

Dr. John Money later corresponded at length with Bess and concluded that Bess, who exhibited an extensive knowledge of anatomy, medical procedures and painkilling drugs, had operated on himself and invented a local doctor's participation to legitimize his experiment. Bess cut an opening at the base of his penis near the scrotum and created an incision in the urethra with the intent of fulfilling this theory. A local doctor apparently did attend Bess on the night in question and supposedly performed a second operation on Bess in late 1961.

John Yau, a critic who wrote an essay for the catalog for the Hirschl & Adler Modern show (1988) suggests, "that Bess’s fervent searching, as well as his self-surgery — the idea came from studying rites performed by Australian aborigines — reflected an inability to accept his homosexuality and, more generally, his reaction to a culture with little tolerance for difference. Mr. Yau likens the scarred surfaces of Bess’s paintings to the psychic and physical scars he endured. "

According to Bess's theories, the bulbous section of the urethra could, if sufficiently dilated, receive another penis in what would be the ultimate, eternally rejuvenating form of sexual intercourse.Bess's self-mutilating surgery never achieved the results he had hoped for and, ironically, this quest for immortality was the beginning of a slow decline in both his health and his creative output.

His work is visionary but it is not a vision of a harmonious utopia. His paintings are not naively pretty like some outsider art. The tiny pieces, enclosed within Bess' hand made wooden frames have rough surfaces and compelling colors with obscure symbols that hint on the edges of meaning. "Art is a search of beauty,'' he wrote Betty Parsons, his New York dealer, in 1954, ''but not a superficial beauty - a very deep longing for a uniting of lost parts.''

Symbols, he wrote, had the power ''to release pent-up tensions and actually bring about a higher level of consciousness.'' He believed art could present symbols in a way that would allow their magic to emerge. Meyer Schapiro, in his essay for Bess's retrospective exhibition at the Betty Patrons Gallery in 1962, called him a "real visionary," not inspired by "texts of poetry or religion but moved by a strange significance of what he alone has seen."

Given his self-surgery and his battle with his homosexuality and his, at that time, undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, it is hard not to let his story overtake his art. But they are intertwined. Each small painting is another piece in the puzzle. Their crusty and textured surfaces, sometimes-bold colors and odd mixture of symbols disturb and intrigue the viewer. The rough wooden frames and uniquely personal symbols are the work of a man devoted to his visions and who believed in the power of art “to release pent up tensions and actually bring about a higher level of consciousness.” For Bess, who had an obsessive fixation on immortality, art was no less than “the search for truth so death will end.”

Forrest Bess. “Dedication to van Gogh”
Bess' work displays a wide variety of influences. The exhibit opens with two canvasses, dedicated to Bess' artistic heroes - van Gogh and another to Albert Pinkham Ryder. “Dedication to van Gogh” (1946), shows van Gogh’s influence in a landscape composed of a blue sun above a field thickly painted with zigzagging orange and green brush strokes. "Before Man' reflects both Aborigine and American Indian symbols, translated via Bess' reading of Jung and "Drawings" with the four ambiguous symbols could have come right out of New York's most sophisticated artistic circles,

In one painting from 1957, railroad tracks coil up from a black well into a red sky with an implication of a rattlesnake about to strike. The mysterious yet somehow familiar icons of “Before Man” (1952-53) illustrate Bess’s interest in Aboriginal art and the symbolic, universal power of "The Dreamtime." in "Bodies of Little Dead Children, " the curved symbols, against a muddy blue background look like the Australian boomerang. Are they two boomerangs or the children that Bess will never have- given that the other visual identification of the curved oblong could be a penis?
Forrest Bess, The Spider.
"The Spider" is the most boldly graphic pieces in the show, thinly painted white lines against a bright red background. "Hermaphrodite" is another tiny, thickly painted piece with red stripes merging into a centerline.

Forrest Bess. "View of Maya," (1951)
 One of the smallest pieces is "View of Maya," (1951). Just 8 inches square, it is composed of alternating lawyers of red and blue stripes. The rhythmic stripes give the piece an organic rhythm and the title - possibly a reference to the world of illusions. With Bess, one never knows. But their honest oddness intrigues, more than the larger and slicker paintings of his contemporaries.

In 1967 Hurricane Carla destroyed his fishing shack and forced him to move 20 miles inland. He was never at home among other people and began a rapid downward slide. In Mr. Smith’s film one of Bess’s friends says that he sometimes spoke of committing suicide, which he said he intended to accomplish by drinking. But before he could do that, he was partly incapacitated by a stroke, finally professionally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was institutionalized before dying of skin cancer at the age of 66.

The Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive is also showing. “Forrest Bess: Key to the Riddle,” a 48-minute film completed in 1998 by Chuck Smith, working with the photographer Ari Marcopoulos. In this film you hear from numerous friends and relatives who knew Bess intimately. Although he was an oddball unlike any seen in Texas, they show enormous understanding and affection for him.

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive: June 11, 2014 - September 14, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wednesday Links: Constable, Julia Margaret Cameron, a new Gauguin & Chivalry comes to the Getty

June 11, 1776. John Constable (11 June 1776 - 31 March 1837) was an English Romantic painter. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home now known as "Constable Country" which he invested with an intensity of affection. "I should paint my own places best", he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, "painting is but another word for feeling". In this image: Weymouth Bay (c. 1816).

It's also the birthday of Julia Margaret Cameron, the greatest of Victorian photographers.

In 1863, when Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gave her a camera as a present, thereby starting her career as a photographer. Within a year, Cameron became a member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland. In her photography, Cameron strove to capture beauty. She wrote, "I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied."

 As summer arrives in London, yellow roses blossom at Bonhams. Bouquet de roses by Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) is the highlight of the Impressionist and Modern Art sale on 23rd June at Bonhams New Bond Street. Previously unknown even to Gauguin scholars, Bouquet de roses is an important, and delightful, discovery that will be offered for sale with estimates of £800,000-£1,200,000.

But why the banal work? Because it was a financially successful style, according to Hrag Vartanian

Damsels in distress, knights in shining armor, and tales of love and adventure – these notions of chivalry have shaped popular understanding of the Middle Ages. Artwork from the period reveals that chivalry, first developed as a model code of conduct for the medieval knighthood, eventually permeated almost every aspect of aristocratic culture. The J. Paul Getty Museum’s newest exhibition Chivalry in the Middle Ages, which begins on July 8, 2014 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, demonstrates how manuscripts of a variety of genres, ranging from romances to hunting treatises, played a central role in promoting the tenets of chivalry.

Chivalry in the Middle Ages is on view July 8-November 30, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Courbet - The Born Rebel

Gustave Courbet has been seen for most of the 20th century as the patriarch of the avant-garde ideal, a man both embodying his time and working in defiance of bourgeois taste: in short, a hero. He was born in 1819 the son of a farmer, lived as a socialist, and died in 1877 exiled in Switzerland, his paintings deemed unexhibitable in France on political grounds. In the end, Courbet was financially crushed by a judgment imposed on him by the French government of more than 300 million francs. (Portion of a review by Robert Hughes, the rest is behind a paywall).

Edgar Degas said that looking at Gustave Courbet’s paintings made him feel as if he were being nuzzled by the wet nose of a calf. That’s an apt analogy for a tremendous Courbet retrospective that invades the Metropolitan Museum with pungencies proper to barnyards, bedrooms, and buggy dells. Courbet is the most purely forceful—because he’s forcefully impure, spitting on purity—painter of all time. (Among the Old Masters, only Tintoretto comes close.) “Realism,” his byword, describes less his method—a talented mélange of cunning and not so cunning, brazen artifices—than effects that stupefy the mind as only reality, when it overloads the senses, can. (Peter Schjeldahl review of the 2008 Courbet retrospective)

Courbet's study may be the only painting in western art to show that women do possess something extraordinary. So why is it so seldom shown (in painting, that is). Contemporary porn is another matter as it seems to consist solely of close-ups of female genitalia.  Courbet's model has her legs spread, her shift pulled high enough to uncover her breasts and cover her face, and her cleft is open to our gaze. Still, it is what it is and not some other thing, as Bishop Butler said, and Courbet tacitly concedes that realism is not enough by giving the work the preposterously inflated tide The Origin of the World. (It is appropriate that this work comes from the private collection of Jacques Lacan.)

Courbet relished scandal as a shortcut to prominence at a time when, for artists, official honors and patronage were losing cachet to notoriety in the popular press and success in the commercial markets. His calculated affronts flaunted his impunity as a bona-fide hero of French culture.

In the autobiography, “The Most Arrogant Man in France: Gustave Courbet and the Nineteenth-Century Media Culture” (Princeton; $45), by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, a Dutch-born American scholar of nineteenth-century European art, details the rise, the fall, and the tireless machinations of art’s first recognizably modern careerist. (The title is Courbet’s contented characterization of himself.)

But the autobiography gives short shrift to Courbet's talent as a painter. 

 The fact that many of Courbet's works were made in a studio negates his often bombastic claims of realism. Some of his outdoor scenes are unconvincing and artificial. His light is often took black, the dreary dullness of a poorly lit indoor studio.

But there is nothing fake or artificial about his painting of trout, hooked and bleeding, done in 1873 when Courbet was crushed by the humiliation of imprisonment. His crime was to have written a letter to the Government of National Defense, proposing that the column in the Place Vendôme, erected by the Napoleon I to honour the victories of the French Army, be taken down.

On 16 May, just nine days before the fall of the Commune, in a large ceremony with military bands and photographers, the Vendome column was pulled down and broke into pieces.

"The Trout" is an allegory of Courbet himself, crushed by the cruel retaliation of the French government. They were going to make him pay for a life time of rebellion and in particular, for his part in the Paris Commune of 1870.  It is painted in an unflinching realist style. Signed on the lower left in red oil paint, it is also inscribed with the Latin phrase "vinculis faciebat: (made in bondage)"

On 4 May 1877, Courbet was told the estimated cost of reconstructing the Vendome Column; 323,091 francs and 68 centimes. He was given the option paying the fine in yearly installments of 10,000 francs for the next 33 years, until his 91st birthday. On 31 December 1877, a day before the first installment was due, Courbet died, aged 58, in La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland, of a liver disease aggravated by heavy drinking.

One may question aspects of his persona, much of which was necessary to get publicity in the competitive art world of the time. But it is relevant that this self-described socialist's career opened with the Revolution of 1848 and closed with the Paris Commune of 1871.

"[They] call me ‘the socialist painter.' I accept that title with pleasure. I am not only a socialist but a democrat and a Republican as well--in a word, a partisan of all the revolution and above all a Realist ... for ‘Realist' means a sincere lover of the honest truth." Gustave Courbet, Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition catalogue (New York: Hatje Cantz, 2008) p. 19. (Quoted from Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Correspondences de Courbet, 1996, p. 97.)


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Gauguin - Sympathy for the Devil

How to evaluate Gauguin? In the roll call of 19th century artists, surely he is one of the most diffcult to like as a man.

His background was exotic - part French, part Peruvian. He was born in France (7 June 1848 - 8 May 1903 but at the age of 18-months, his parents decamped for Peru. His father died on the voyage out, leaving Gauguin's mother to fend for herself.

The family lived for four years in Lima. Gauguin was to claim that Peru's pre-Columbian past was an early influence. After the family returned to France, Gauguin's mother took up with a wealthy stockbroker who financed Gauguin's schooling and later, his own career as a stockbroker. He married a Danish woman, tried his hand at a business career as a tarpaulin salesman. He was not successful and his wife supported the family.

Paysannes bretonnes (Breton peasant women). 1894
In the meantime, Gauguin fathered five children and got "bit" by the painting bug. He studied with Pissarro who was the kindly grandfather/teacher to the obstreperous Gauguin just like he was to Paul Cézanne. Eventually Gauguin left his wife and kids and started on his real artistic odyssey.

But even Pissarro had his doubts about Gauguin. “He’s not a seer, he’s a schemer,” one-time mentor Camille Pissarro railed, arguing that Gauguin never really lost his capitalist streak; that with his paintings of sun-soaked islands, Gauguin was just cashing in on the Parisian bourgeoisie’s fondness for all things “other”.

Self-portrait with Halo.1889
He was also a genius at self-promotion. He created his own myth in his self-portrait as a Christ-like figure, martyr for an art that no body else appreciated. Early on, he functioned as a guru to a coterie of younger artists and a thief of other mens' ideas and other men's women. The painter Emile Bernard accused Gauguin of stealing his ideas; another, Emile Schuffenecker, accused him of stealing his wife. Van Gogh ended up going for Gauguin with a razor.

 Jacob wrestling with the angel. 

After a stay in Martinique, where he contracted a number of tropical diseases and was returned to France courtesy of the French government's policy of return, he went searching for a new path that would reveal the inner essence of things. In Brittany he found it, “the wild and the primitive... resonating in this granite ground”, though he had gone there initially because living was cheap and credit easy to obtain. It was in Brittany, in a lesson to his young disciple Sérusier, Gauguin gave one of the most seminal talks in the history of modern art. Gauguin asked Sérusier what color the trees appeared to him. “Yellow? Well then, put down the most beautiful yellow on your palette. And that shadow is blue, so render it with pure ultramarine. For those red leaves, use vermilion.”

                               Tahitian Women on the Beach, (1891)

Gauguin told Sérusier to cut out the muddy intermediary colours, to render every colour in its purest and most intense form, straight from the tube – to create what one of Sérusier’s fellow students later described as “a passionate equivalent to every sensation received”.

In the space of a few minutes, Gauguin set in train one of the principal trajectories in the art of the next hundred years, from the Fauvism of Matisse and Derain to the colour fields of Rothko and Barnett Newman – to which might be added the notion that it is the idea behind the work rather than the person who created it that is significant.

"When Sérusier’s fellow students saw the tiny painting that Gauguin had “dictated” to Sérusier on the back of a cigar box – which looked like something Matisse might create 30 years later – they formed a new movement, the Nabis (Hebrew for “prophets”), which included such luminaries as Bonnard and Vuillard. They called the painting 'The Talisman,' venerating it as an icon of the art that was to come."

In 1891, Gauguin left the decadent West for what he romantically imagined was an untouched paradise, the South Pacific islands of Tahiti and Hiva Oa.

                                         Maternity, (1899)

He took three native brides – aged 13, 14 and 14, for those keeping score – possibly infecting them and countless other local girls with syphilis as well as fathering several more children. He always maintained there were deep-rooted ideological reasons for his emigration, that he was quitting decadent Paris for a purer life in a tropical South Seas paradise, but one wonders how pure things really were in the hut he christened La Maison du Jouir (“The House of Orgasm”).

But by this time he was too ill and too disillusioned by the influence of Christian missionaries in his remote Pacific islands to do more than write - and paint his last, brilliant, vibrant masterpieces.

 Te aa no areois (The Seed of the Areoi), 1892, The Museum of Modern Art

Ever the rebel, Gauguin got into trouble at the end of his life for taking the natives' side against French colonialists. He was sentenced to a month in prison and fined 500 francs.
 Manao tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch)

Suffering from syphilis, he died at 11 a.m. on 8 May 1903 of an overdose of morphine and possibly a heart attack before he could start the prison sentence. His body had been weakened by alcohol. He was 54 years old.

 A 2010 show at the Tate Modern helped to put put him back on the art history tree. By presenting a huge number of paintings, many of them seldom seen, reveals his complex art, a charismatic figure whose influence was greater than we imagined. His themes are archetypes - the woman, the mother, desire, death, fear, obscure, quasi-religious symbols. The paintings became more and more mysterious but Gauguin neither wanted nor felt the need to explain what the meanings were. He remained true to the motto he carve on the doorway of his last dwelling place in the Marquesas Islands: Soyez mystérieuses – Be mysterious.

The vogue for Gauguin's work started soon after his death. Many of his later paintings were acquired by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. A substantial part of his collection is displayed in the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage. Gauguin's posthumous retrospective exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1903 and an even larger one in 1906 had a stunning and powerful influence on the French avant-garde and in particular Pablo Picasso's paintings.

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, 1897, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA

In the autumn of 1906, Picasso made paintings of oversized nude women, and monumental sculptural figures that recalled the work of Paul Gauguin and showed his interest in primitive art. Picasso's paintings of massive figures from 1906 were directly influenced by Gauguin's sculpture, painting and his writing as well. The power evoked by Gauguin's work led directly to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1907 Gauguin paintings are rarely offered for sale; their price may be as high as US $39.2 million.