Gauguin Portraits

Face to face with an enigma

The bewitching, sometimes bloodcurdling, boldly coloured paintings in this show are unmissable.

Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph

More than 100 years after his death, Paul Gauguin remains something of an enigma. Colonialist, explorer, misogynist, fantasist and avant-garde ground-breaker, the French artist is still a figure of intrigue and controversy. And in this, the first ever exhibition devoted to his portraits, The National Gallery puts the man and his life under the microscope.

With fifty works drawn together from around the world, the exhibition tells the Gauguin story with characteristic vibrancy and startling intimacy. From his early days as an outsider to his years in French Polynesia, these pieces show how Gauguin took the portrait into colourful and darkly sinister new territories. Highlights include the striking Gauguin self-portrait Christ in the Garden of Olives, in which he depicts himself as ‘the chosen one’, and the leap-off-the-canvas yellow and purples of Woman with a Mango.

Best known for his exotic paintings and deeply symbolic self-portraits, the exhibition also includes three-dimensional works in a variety of media – there are experimental ceramics and chunky wood carvings. And, while Gauguin’s behaviour was unquestionably outrageous, the exhibition never shies away from the fundamental issues. At once beautiful and often unsettling, this is a show that has received huge critical acclaim.

To get a deeper understanding of the works on display, join one of the National Gallery talks and events. Subjects include a discussion of Gauguin’s stay at Van Gogh’s Yellow House and the (im)morality that’s central to so many of these enthralling, yet troubling pieces.

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7 October - 26 January 2020


The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
Charing Cross