When the works of Paul Gauguin go on display at the National Gallery in Canberra next year, it will be one of the most ambitious exhibitions the gallery has ever staged. More than 140 works by the French post-Impressionist artist will be brought together in Gauguin’s World: Tōna Iho, Tōna Ao, on display at the gallery from 29 June to 7 October 2024.
The first exhibition of its kind in Australia, it provides a rare opportunity for visitors to follow the artist’s journey, from his Impressionist beginnings in 1873 to his final destination in French Polynesia where he created some of his most renowned works — visions of Tahiti that glowed with an entirely new palette of brilliant colour.
Although largely unrecognised in his lifetime, the works of Gauguin (1848-1903) — like that of his friend and rival Vincent van Gogh — are now celebrated. The exhibition will enable visitors to experience the complexity and diversity of Gauguin’s artistic practice in oil paint, ceramic, wood relief and woodcut.
Many of the works were created in the Pacific, particularly Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. The exhibition brings his work back to the Pacific region for the first time – to the part of the world where he realised his desire for a new life and a purity of artistic expression.
Gauguin’s World: Tōna Iho, Tōna Ao is curated by Henri Loyrette, a scholar of 19th century French art and former director of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée du Louvre in Paris. He says it is the first exhibition devoted to Gauguin and Oceania, “a survey of his entire corpus as seen from his final destination, the Marquesas”.
“When Gauguin landed in the Marquesas in September 1901, he knew that he had reached his journey’s end; he had at last found his ‘true homeland’, the place to which he had always aspired,” says the esteemed curator.
“In the 20 months before his death, he continued to develop his art while, in his writings, he set out to review his career as a whole. This is the starting point for an exhibition that reveals that introspection and the art that preceded it, returning to the questions that haunted him as an artist – the challenges that he set himself and solved in his quest for his own identity.”
National Gallery director, Dr Nick Mitzevich, says the exhibition will feature some of Gauguin’s most recognised and acknowledged masterpieces, but there will be no shying away from debate around his life and art.
“In today’s context, Gauguin’s interactions in Polynesia in the later part of the 19th century would not be accepted and are recognised as such,” Dr Mitzevich said. “The gallery will explore Gauguin’s life, art and controversial legacy through talks, public programs, a podcast series and films.”
More than 65 leading public and private lenders from as far as the United Kingdom, Japan, São Paulo, Tahiti and Abu Dhabi have generously agreed to share works of art from their collections. The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is the major lender with 17 exceptional works from their collection.
Musée de Tahiti et des îles is also an important contributor, providing their works by Gauguin and important 19th century Marquesan sculptural works, which will form a special component of the exhibition, providing additional context to Gauguin’s artistic practice and illuminating his years spent in French Polynesia.
A cultural delegation from Tahiti will visit Canberra for the opening. The exhibition is being organised in partnership with Art Exhibitions Australia and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where it will be displayed after its Canberra run.
Tickets go on sale from March 26 2024. Visit www.nga.gov.au
About the exhibition’s Tahitian-language title:
Tōna Iho: meaning Gauguin’s soul, spirit, heart, thought, ideas, opinions, views.
Tōna Ao: meaning all what constitute and shape Gauguin’s world.