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National Gallery of Canada opens first-ever exhibition devoted to portraits by Gauguin
Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait with Idol, c. 1893, oil on canvas, 43.8 × 32.7 cm. McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay (1950.46)

OTTAWA.- From May 24 to September 8, 2019, the National Gallery of Canada presents Gauguin: Portraits, offering the opportunity to see the work of French artist Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) from a unique perspective, bringing new insights into his vision of portraiture.

Gauguin’s work has been the subject of many exhibitions, but Gauguin: Portraits is the first exhibition dedicated to his portraiture. One of the most important and fascinating artists of the nineteenth century, Gauguin expanded the traditional practice of portraiture in groundbreaking ways and had a fundamental influence on the art of the 20th and the 21st centuries.

The exhibition highlights the way in which the artist used self-portraits and portraits of others to construct his own narrative, express himself and his ideas about art, and to pursue his ambitions as a leader of the avant-garde in Paris. Gauguin challenged the traditional functions of portraiture, giving it new meaning. He was rarely interested in exploring his models’ social standing, personality, or family background, which were the main reasons for making portraits in the past. Nonetheless, he was very knowledgeable about Western portraiture traditions. He used poses, compositional formats, and attributes in a way that, even when the subject is unknown, his works still look like portraits.

Gauguin worked in many different media – from painting, drawing and printmaking to sculpture, pottery and writing- all of which he used to make portraits. His use of intense colour, his interest in non-western subject matter, and his multi-media approach early on inspired artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

Featuring works from the 1880s to the end of the artist’s life, Gauguin: Portraits is the first major exhibition on Gauguin to be presented at the National Gallery of Canada, which is the only North American venue to offer the show. It is co-organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the National Gallery, London, England, where it will be on view from October 7, 2019, to January 26, 2020.

The thematic exhibition explores various aspects of Gauguin’s portraiture. It features paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings from public and private collections from around the world, including the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, U.S.A; The Art Institute of Chicago, U.S.A.; The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan; the Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; and The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. It also comprises works on paper from the National Gallery of Canada’s collection that highlight Gauguin’s friendships and collaborations. Many of these works have rarely been seen together.

Gauguin: Portraits has been four years in the making and was conceived by Cornelia Homburg, guest curator at the National Gallery of Canada, a specialist of late-19th-century art. Ms. Homburg worked in close collaboration with co-curator Christopher Riopelle, the Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, London.

The exhibition was sparked by Paul Gauguin’s larger-than-life oak bust of Dutch painter and friend Meijer de Haan, made between 1889 and 1890 and purchased by the Gallery in 1968. A dedicated gallery in the exhibition presents ground breaking findings by Doris Couture-Rigert, Chief Conservator at the Gallery, on how Gauguin made the polychrome sculpture.

"We are thrilled to invite audiences to Ottawa and to London to experience Gauguin: Portraits, the first ever exhibition on this theme – enter the real and imagined worlds of Paul Gauguin, his circle of friends and acquaintances. The presentation of Gauguin: Portraits is the fruit of an in-depth investigation by the co-curators with a group of international scholars and becomes part of a long standing collaboration between our two National Galleries." – Dr. Sasha Suda, Director and CEO, National Gallery of Canada

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