Tahitian Dreams

Artists are often searching for something. Sometimes they find what they’re looking for; other times, not so much. Paul Gauguin was a searcher who fell into the later category.

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ABOVE: Paul Gauguin, When Will You Marry?, oil on canvas, 1892, 40 x 30 inches

Born and raised in Paris, Paul Gauguin longed to travel and escape the trappings of western life. Being poor often put a damper on travel plans, but after a successful auction of his paintings, he was able to leave Paris for Tahiti in 1891.

Unfortunately, his escape from Europe proved futile as Tahiti had previously been colonized by the British, and in the process, many of the islands indigenous people had been killed by the diseases they brought with them. Owing to this, French and European culture had taken over, and Gauguin’s expectations of Tahiti were at odds with his actual experiences there.

After struggling to make ends meet in the capitol (Papeete), he eventually settled in a bamboo hut just outside the city, and began work on what many consider to be his finest paintings. It was during this time that he painted “When Will You Marry?” which consists of one women wearing traditional garb, and another dressed like a missionary. This contrast serves to highlight the changes evident in Tahiti at the time, and Gauguin’s attempts to reconcile them.

Gauguin returned to France in 1893, but continued to paint Tahitian subjects with the belief they would appeal to a French audience – they did not.”When Will You Marry?” was placed on consignment in an exhibition, but after failing to sell, it remained with the artist until his death in 1903.

In 2015, “When Will You Marry?” sold to a member of the Qatari royal family for close to US $300 million (exact price unknown). To date, it, along with Willem de Kooning’s “Interchange”, is the most expensive painting ever sold. Its current whereabouts are unknown. I wonder what Gauguin would have thought.

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Vision after the Sermon

On October 22, you’ll be able to see some incredible artworks at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Of them all, I’m most looking forward to Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon.

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ABOVE: Paul Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel), 1888, oil on canvas, 28.7 x 36.2 inches

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) seems to be on a role as of late, and it looks like that’s going to continue with Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more (opening on October 22). After viewing some of the works on the AGO’s website, I’m most excited to see Vision after the Sermon by Paul Gauguin. Here is a little about the piece.

Painted in 1888 and purchased by the National Gallery of Scotland in 1925, Vision after the Sermon is one of Gauguin’s most famous works, in part, because it marks his transition from plein air landscapes to religious iconography.

In the painting, the women have just listened to a sermon based upon Genesis (32:22-32) which tells the story of Jacob, who, after crossing a river with his family, gets into an all-night wrestling match with an unknown angel. They are separated from their vision by a tree that cuts across the visual plane, and, to draw attention to the scene before them, the ground on which they stand is painted red. About the piece Gauguin wrote “for me, the landscape and the fight only exist in the imagination of the people praying after the sermon.”

In a few months, I’ll get to see it in person. I can’t wait.

Money & Art

With every passing year, the prices paid for arts biggest names rise and rise. Just this week, another record was broken. How long before it’s broken again?

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ABOVE: Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) / Women of Algiers, 1955, oil on canvas, 44.9 x 57.6 inches, private collection

On Monday night, Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) broke the record for most expensive artwork sold at auction when it went for $179.4 million at Christie’s in New York City. All told, the 35 pieces in Monday’s sale went for a total of $705,858,000. To put this in perspective, the Kingdom of Tonga has a GDP of $466.3 million.

Shockingly, Les Femmes d’Alger is nowhere near the most expensive painting ever sold. That distinction goes to Paul Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo which changed hands privately for $300 million in February of this year. It seems that in the art world, private sales trump auction houses.

Every once in a while, buyers want their names attached to their acquisitions, but most often, and in the case of the above paintings, they do not. While this desire for anonymity is understandable, it is also worrisome as it likely means that these two masterpieces will never be seen (in public) again.

All of this begs the question: why do private individuals spend so much on art? From a hedge against inflation to the building of an art foundation, there are many possible reasons, but the cynic within me has to ask: Is the ‘love of art’ one of them?