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"Mahana No Atua Day Of The God" by Paul Gauguin "Mahana No Atua Day Of The God" by Paul Gauguin

Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist



An in-depth look at Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin’s creative process and how he challenged cultural, geographic, and material boundaries.
Gauguin Artist As Alchemist Video

Becoming Gauguin

Gauguin became an artist after traveling the world as a merchant marine and working as a stockbroker’s assistant. His unconventional artistic path made him uniquely open to exploring a wide range of materials, including wood, wax, and ceramics.

Im018860 Press
Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ, 1890–91.

Paul Gauguin. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, acquired by the national museums with the participation of Philippe Meyer and a Japanese sponsorship coordinated by the newspaper Nikkei, 1994.

Traveling the World

Gauguin spent the first six years of his life in Peru and, as an adult, lived in Paris, Brittany, Martinique, Tahiti, and the Marquesas Islands. In every place, he absorbed—and reinvented—the local artistic and cultural traditions.

Im018856 Press
Faa iheihe (Tahitian Pastoral), 1898.

Paul Gauguin. Tate, presented by Lord Duveen, 1919.

Reinventing the Past

When Gauguin first traveled to Tahiti, he was dismayed to find that much of the local culture had been transformed by colonization. The works he created there are not historically accurate but rather his reimagining of what the island might have once been.

Im018865 Press
Arearea (Joyousness), 1892.

Paul Gauguin. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, bequest of M. and Mme Lung, 1961.

My goal was to transform … by intelligent hands which could impart the life of a face to a vase and yet remain true to the character of the material. – Paul Gauguin

Experimenting to the End

Gauguin was radically creative throughout his career. He never stopped experimenting with new methods, and his art continues to fascinate because it remains unpredictable, contradictory, and enormously varied in medium, form, and content.

Im018869 Press
Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888.

Paul Gauguin. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.


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.

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

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; the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation; and the Woman’s Board.

Support for Media Production provided by the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Digital Engagement supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.


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