As is well known, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh lived together for a disastrous three months. Among the many disagreements they had was the question of depicting iconographic images. For Van Gogh, a Protestant, that was anathema. For Gauguin, who was Jesuit educated, it was essential. Although he was fleeting in his practice of Catholicism (he embraced Buddhism and Theosophy as well), the iconography Gauguin had been exposed to was in his DNA. As many will sophistically point out, Gauguin was hardly a model of morality, but much of the negativity about him is exaggerated and/or downright myth (i.e. he left … Continue reading THE CATHOLIC ART OF PAUL GAUGUIN


“Oh, I hate that man. He left his wife and children, was cruel to Van Gogh, and bedded down all those Tahitian girls. I just cannot look at his paintings.” This is a simple-minded, uninformed, dull, and predictable comment that I have little patience or tolerance for, and I have heard it countless times whenever I list Paul Gauguin among the painters I identify with aesthetically. Several films have been made about about Gauguin, yet none of them have caught his essence, at least until this documentary by Waldemar Januszczak. It is not a perfect film, but Gauguin is vividly present in it.

Donald Sutherland starred as Gauguin in the 1986 film Oviri, directed by Henning Carlson. In that film, the banker Gauguin and his wife, Matte, are on a Sunday horse and carriage ride with his co-workers and their wives. The financiers engage in shop talk while Gauguin broods. Finally, the frustrated painter taps the carriage driver on the shoulder and tells him to stop. Gauguin looks at his wife and peers and says, “You are my jailers.” With that, he jumps out of the carriage and walks off to find his paradise. A nice story but one that is a total fiction, buying into the painter’s mythology.

In actuality, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), contrary to the repeated myths, was not a millionaire banker. He was a successful stock broker. He did not quit his job. The stock market crashed and he lost his job. Gauguin, who had been a “Sunday” painter for years, felt that this was reason enough to pursue painting full time, something he had been longing to do. It was with this that his wife left him. Gauguin did not desert his wife and five children. His wife rejected him after he lost his income as a stockbroker.

Art critic Waldemar Januszczak attempts to set the record straight. “What’s to like about this man?,” Januszczak asks. “First of all, there is the art, which needs no defense. Gauguin painted some of the world’s most alluring woman and put them into several of the world’s most gorgeous pictures, but what I really like about him is that he did it for big and noble reasons.” And then, most aptly, he says, “There is always more to a Gauguin than meets the eye.” Januszczak covers those “big and noble reasons,” but falls a little short in the “more than meets the eye” comment (more on that later).