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Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist

June 25, 2017–September 10, 2017
Regenstein Hall
Member Preview: 
June 22–24

“It’s precisely an endless kind of art that I’m interested in, rich in all sorts of techniques, suitable for translating all the emotions of nature and humanity.” —Paul Gauguin, 1903

Best known for his paintings of women in idyllic Tahitian settings, Paul Gauguin was an artist whose career spanned the globe and whose works defy categorization. In his famous self-portrait from 1891–90, he chose to represent himself as an artist who excelled in both two and three dimensions, flanking his image with one of his most iconic paintings, The Yellow Christ (1889), and one of his most important ceramics, Self-Portrait in Form of a Grotesque Head (1889).

This exhibition—organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Réunion des musées nationaux–Grand Palais—is the most in-depth examination to date of his radical experiments in the applied arts, underscoring his highly personal achievements not only as a painter but also as a sculptor, ceramist, printmaker, and decorator.

Utilizing new research into his working processes, the exhibition sheds light on Gauguin’s identity as an artist-artisan, looking at moments when he stood at an artistic crossroads and found new direction by exploring unconventional media and methods.

From his early years still grappling with Impressionism (1877–86), to his time in Brittany and Martinique (1886–91), to his first trip to Tahiti (1891–93), to his return to Paris (1893–95), and to his last years in Tahiti and Hiva Oa (1895–1903), Gauguin adapted his progressive and unique approach to the materials of each location and developed ingenious processes in response to various physical or financial limitations—and sometimes simply out of his desire to do what no artist had done before.

The exhibition features some 240 works, including the largest-ever public presentation of his ceramics, the reunion and display of related works side-by-side, and a selection of ethnographic objects that reveals his sources of inspiration. Together these works attest to Gauguin’s expansive notions of what art should be and his embrace of multimedia, installation, and found objects long before these concepts were considered artistic practices.

After its debut at the Art Institute, Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist travels to the Grand Palais in Paris.


The exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Réunion des musées nationaux–Grand Palais.

Lead Sponsor

Major support is provided by Lesley and Janice Lederer.

Additional funding is contributed by anonymous donors, the Alice M. La Pert Fund for French Impressionism, Juliette F. Bacon, the Kemper Educational and Charitable Fund, Ann C. Cooluris, Katherine L. Olson Charitable Foundation, Margot Levin Schiff and the Harold Schiff Foundation, Barbara and Marc Posner, the Robert Lehman Foundation, and David and Mary Winton Green Research Fund.

Annual support for Art Institute exhibitions is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Neil Bluhm and the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation; Jay Franke and David Herro; Kenneth Griffin; Caryn and King Harris, The Harris Family Foundation; Liz and Eric Lefkofsky; Robert M. and Diane v.S. Levy; Ann and Samuel M. Mencoff; Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal; Thomas and Margot Pritzker; Anne and Chris Reyes; Betsy Bergman Rosenfield and Andrew M. Rosenfield; Cari and Michael J. Sacks; and the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.