A glimpse of Gauguin

Sometimes you want a break from your day, just a short one, something easy to squeeze in. The Courtauld gallery’s temporary exhibitions are good for that. After a ten-minute cab ride from the office, I entered the single-room exhibition of Gauguin works collected by Samuel Courtauld.
There are three paintings from the Courtauld permanent collection and two bought by the pioneer collector Samuel Courtauld, now in Edinburgh and Birmingham. Only five paintings in total, one from Gauguin’s stay in Martinique, one from his Pont-Aven period and three from his time in Tahiti.
All of them witness his quest of a simpler way of life.

Also included are several engravings and a marble sculpture by the artist. I never saw a marble sculpture by Gauguin before, though I am familiar with his carved wood Tahitian pieces. The marble sculpture on show has nothing Gauguin-like about it, apart from his signature. The engravings were an interesting contrast to his paintings. Fun fact: Gauguin used unconventional engraving tools such as razor blades, needles and sandpaper, which resulted in very detailed etchings. This allowed for more detail in the execution than in the paintings included in the exhibition. Only his Martinique painting seemed comparable, with its similarly thin brushstrokes.

I had seen four of the five paintings on show in the (fabulous) permanent collection of the Courtauld Gallery, in Edinburgh, and also a fair share of Gauguin paintings from his Tahiti period at the Musée d’Orsay in 2004. That thorough Paris exhibition of Gauguin’s Polynesian work convinced me of the artificiality of his quest for a primitive life. Nonetheless, it produced these beautiful, colourful and idealised paintings. Go have a look if you have time before September 8. Otherwise, please note that for the engravings, I was told that they were not exhibited permanently but could be viewed by appointment.

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