June 19, 2015

"Paul Gauguin" @ Fondation Beyeler

No trip to Basel is complete without a ride on the Number 6 tram to Riehen Dorf, a small village on the German border and a visit to the Fondation Beyeler.  Opened to the public in 1997, the foundation is housed in a magnificent building designed by architect Renzo Piano to showcase both the natural beauty of the Swiss countryside and the remarkable collection of the eminent dealer Ernst Beyeler.  As well as a stunning permanent collection of Modern, Contemporary and Ethnographic works, the foundation also presents temporary exhibitions of outstanding quality.

This spring's special presentation focuses on the mature period of the great modern painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).  Known primarily for his colorful views of the exotic South Seas, Gauguin's works may seem primitive but they were revolutionary at the time and very influential on later generations of artists.

Born in Paris, Paul Gauguin began his adult life as a successful stockbroker with a wife and five children but by his late thirties he had abandoned his bourgeois lifestyle to devote himself to painting.  Disillusioned with city life, he spent time in Brittany painting the local people in everyday scenes or interpreting Biblical stories.

"The Vision of the Sermon" or "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel", 1888

He eventually left France in search of a "purer" existence in the unspoiled paradise of Tahiti.  Though the culture and landscapes became the mainstay of his most famous paintings, Gauguin was disappointed to discover that he was too late to experience the true Tahitian civilization - the effects of French colonization had already contaminated the identity of the indigenous people.

In spite of this, the beauty of both the land and people provided ample material for artistic inspiration and Gauguin immersed himself in the mysticism and foreignness of this tropical island.  The paintings he produced here are masterpieces of color and mystery - simple yet exotic, na├»ve yet sensuous, beautiful yet haunting.
"Contes barbares", 1902

A scant two years after this major relocation, Gauguin was forced by poor health and finances to return to his native France.  Any dreams of a hero's welcome were quickly dashed and in 1885 he sailed again for Tahiti and the tropical paradise he now considered his true home.  His final years were spent on the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa where he painted until his untimely death at the age of 54.

"Where Do We Come From?  What Are We?  Where Are We Going", 1897-8

Paul Gauguin remained true to his artistic vision throughout his short life, no matter what.  His distinctive style of painting, so radical at the time, ensured that he would go down in history as a visionary and genius.  The proof is in the pudding...his painting "When Will You Marry", a masterpiece of harmony and form, recently sold for a staggering $300 million.  If only he had lived long enough to enjoy his success.

"When Will You Marry", 1892

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