In an Australian first, the life and work of one of the world’s greatest artists, Paul Gauguin, will be showcased at the National Gallery in Canberra next year.
More than 140 of the French post-Impressionist artist’s works will be exhibited in Gauguin’s World: Tōna Iho, Tōna Ao, which the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) describes as one of its most ambitious international exhibitions to date.
(The exhibition’s Tahitian-language title Tōna Iho, Tōna Ao means Gauguin’s soul, spirit, heart, thought, ideas, opinions and views.)
Director of the NGA, Nick Mitzevich said Gauguin’s World promised to be an artistic drawcard when it opened in Canberra on 29 June 2024.
“This exhibition offers a rare opportunity for Australians to personally witness the significant and enduring art of Gauguin, featuring some of his most recognised and acknowledged masterpieces,” Dr Mitzevich said. “Many of the works were created in the Pacific region, particularly Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.
“Like other contemporary and historic artists, Gauguin’s life and art have increasingly and appropriately been debated here and around the world. In today’s context, Gauguin’s interactions in Polynesia in the later part of the 19th century would not be accepted and are recognised as such.
“The National Gallery will explore Gauguin’s life, art and controversial legacy through talks, public programs, a podcast series and films.”
Major lender for the exhibition, Musee d’Orsay in Paris, will send 17 of its prized pieces to Canberra. They will be joined by works from more than 65 public and private lenders from the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, São Paulo and Abu Dhabi.
Musée de Tahiti et des îles has also contributed to the exhibition, lending its works by Gauguin and important 19th century Marquesan sculptural works. They will form a special component of the exhibition, providing additional context to Gauguin’s time in French Polynesia.
The exhibition will be curated by 19th century French art scholar, Henri Loyrette, who said it marked the first time Gauguin’s work would be brought back to the Pacific region – “to the part of the world where he realised his desire for a new life and a purity of artistic expression”.
“When Gauguin landed in the Marquesas in September 1901, he knew that he had reached his journey’s end; he had at last found his ‘true homeland’, the place to which he had always aspired,” Mr Loyrette said. “In the 20 months before his death, he continued to develop his art while, in his writings, he set out to review his career as a whole.
“This is the starting point for an exhibition that reveals that introspection and the art that preceded it, returning to the questions that haunted him as an artist – the challenges that he set himself and solved in his quest for his own identity.
“By then he felt able to write: ‘Standing at his easel, the painter is slave neither to the past nor the present, neither to nature nor his fellow-man. It is he, still and forever he.'”
Although largely unrecognised in his lifetime, Gauguin’s art is now celebrated – like that of his friend and rival Vincent van Gogh.
Gauguin’s work was influential for later artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. His vibrant use of colour and flattened decorative surfaces remains a motivating force for many artists in our times. Since his death in 1903, Gauguin has left two enduring and conflicting legacies – his art and himself.
The exhibition in Canberra next year provides a rare opportunity for visitors to follow the artist’s life journey – from his Impressionist beginnings in 1873 to his final destination in French Polynesia where he created some of his most renowned works, visions of Tahiti that glowed with a new palette of brilliant colour.
Visitors will also experience the complexity and diversity of his artistic practice in oil paint, ceramic, wood relief and woodcut.
Tickets for Gauguin’s World: Tōna Iho, Tōna Ao at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, will go on sale early next year.