Gauguin: A Voyage to Tahiti

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Chasing Gauguin

Summer just won’t let go. And where better to chill than a place that’s a bastion of cool, even during the dog days of August. Thinking such thoughts, I grabbed a sweater and headed for the Paris theater, across from the Plaza Hotel, to set sail for Tahiti, following in the wake of Gauguin.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was a French post-Impressionist painter who, though controversial in his day, is widely regarded for his brilliant use of color and a style that’s distinctly different from that of the Impressionists. In 1891, disgusted by cafe-life in Paris and beset by financial problems, Gauguin (played by the superb French actor Vincent Cassel) begs his wife and friends to join him on a voyage to Tahiti, at a time when the islands, including the Marquesas, were a French colony.

No one takes him up on this suggestion, especially not his wife Mette (Pernille Bergendorff) who, instead, takes his five legitimate children to Copenhagen, Denmark to live with her relatives. Even in Paris, Gauguin sees little of his children and evinces no understanding of anyone’s needs but his own. Two of his five legitimate children would die young, while the other three would all exhibit the artistic gene, as did his two children by other women. (Including one by Tehura.)

Sailing Solo

 Vincent Cassel as Gauguin

Vincent Cassel as Gauguin

Rebuffed by friends and family, Gauguin sets off on his own to spend ten years in French Polynesia living in squalid conditions and sacrificing his health (sufferingfrom diabetes and a weakened heart) for the sake of his art. The consummate Romantic artist!

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti focuses on the artist’s work and his relationship with the young Tehura (Tuhei Adams) who becomes his muse, his model and his wife. What the film avoids is any acknowledgement that Tehura was about thirteen when she agrees to go with Gauguin. To get around that issue, the charming actress chose to play Tehura was a bit older. at seventeen.

In a #MeToo moment, seeing the grizzled emaciated Gauguin with the fresh and radiant Tehura gave pause.

Gauguin at the Met

Prior to leaving Paris, the artist in an interview had explained how he wanted to create simple art, bold art. Art with inherent meaning. And that he did. In line with this thinking, Gauguin’s friend, a French doctor on Tahiti, when looking at a painting of Tehura would say of her: ‘the Tahitian Venus.’ That says a lot, doesn’t it?

Sailing for Home

The cinematography is lush—worthy of a travelogue—but to maintain the tension and keep the viewer’s interest, the director keeps the camera focused on Gauguin, rather than on long-shots showing the primeval beauty of the islands. But artistic creation is an internal process, one hard to show on the big screen. Something many critics have mentioned and criticized.

Breaking Through

Like Vincent Van Gogh, a fellow French post-Impressionist and a friend with whom he had a falling out, Gauguin was a proponent of woodcuts as art forms. What he would discover is that local wood carvers did well in the islands, thanks to tourists hungering for takeaway gifts, while he was hard-pressed to find a buyer. Yet his art was highly influential on modern artists who followed, including two of the giants of the 20th century Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse who sang his praises. The prized Tahitian paintings are now part of museum collections worldwide.

And that’s all for this week mes amis from Desperately Seeking Paris. Come by next week when I’ll have the coffee ready.

Regarding the coffee! When I went on-line with Fresh Direct to place my grocery order for the week, the following description for my choice of coffee popped up:

‘Sumatra, a fair trade, organic coffee, perfect for coffee drinkers who crave big, bold flavors. This sumptuous cup carries a nuanced sweetness and intense notes of bell pepper and spicy tobacco that give way to mellow, earthy undertones and a warming rum-raisin finish. Grown by farmers in the verdant highlands surrounding northern Sumatra's Lake Toba, this coffee has a robust, well-balanced body.’

It sounds as refined and dee-lisch as a noble Burgundy, non? If you have the time next Sunday, drop by for a cuppa’ Sumatra. Until we meet again…Jusqu'à ce que nous nous revoyions. May life be good to you.

Remember, mes amis, sharing is caring! Merci mille fois…