Paul Gauguin, renowned for his paintings of exotic idylls and Polynesian beauties, was a sadist who battered his wife, exploited his friends and lied to the world about the erotic Eden he claimed to have discovered on the South Sea island of Tahiti.
The most exhaustive study ever of Gauguin's life has revealed a brutal man who falsely cast himself as a creature of exotic sexuality, a defender of women's rights and a bastion of socialist ideals.
'No one has ever questioned Gauguin's own version of the man he was and the life he lived,' said Nancy Mowll Mathews, author of Paul Gauguin, An Erotic Life, to be published this week. 'But the reality couldn't be more different.'
Until now, the received opinion has been that Gauguin's wife was a bullying harridan who chased her husband from the family home. But Mathews has discovered letters that prove that Matte Gad was in fact a kind, clever woman who was victimised physically, verbally and emotionally by her husband.
Life’s not easy as a Paul Gauguin fan. You are on the defensive too much to be effusive. Gauguin was both a syphilitic pedophile and an artist more important than Van Gogh. See the problem? Foul man, fine artist. Some say our knowledge of the former should change our opinion on the latter. Others, myself among them, think otherwise.
The trouble we aesthetes have, though, is that in Gauguin’s case – just like Van Gogh’s – his life was so dramatic it’s hard not to read the biography on to the art. Indeed, much of the power of his most famous works – the Polynesian-babe paintings – derives from our uncomfortable knowledge of the context they were created in. Although rendered innocent and unerotic, these brown-skinned nudes were more than just Gauguin’s models; they were his sex slaves, too. ...No mater how majestic Gauguin's canvases, it's hard finding sympathy for the devil.
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