Gauguin – A Dangerous Life: documentary that sets Paul Gauguin’s artistic achievement against his sexual relationships with young girls in the Pacific and his role in 19th-century French colonialism.
‘I am indeed a savage. And civilised people sense it. My works surprise and disturb them because they see in them the savage that I can’t repress. That’s what makes my work inimitable.’
Actor Dominic West reads Paul Gauguin‘s self-revelatory words in a new film biography that recognises Gauguin’s formidable artistic achievement but also confronts his sexual relationships with young indigenous girls in the Pacific and his role in 19th-century French colonialism.
Gauguin – A Dangerous Life
Gauguin’s vivid artworks sell for millions. He was an inspired and committed multi-media artist who worked with the Impressionists and had a tempestuous relationship with Vincent van Gogh. But he was also a competitive and rapacious man who left his wife to bring up five children and used his colonial privilege to travel to Polynesia, where in his 40s he took ‘wives’ between 13 and 15 years old, creating images of them and their world that promoted a fantasy paradise of an unspoilt Eden in the Pacific. Later, he challenged the colonial authorities and the Catholic Church in defence of the indigenous people, dying in the Marquesas Islands in 1903, sick, impoverished and alone.
Shot in France, Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, Aotearoa New Zealand and the UK, the film features Gauguin’s descendants – his great granddaughter Mette Gauguin and Tahitian grandson Marcel Tai Gauguin, in addition to art historians and contemporary artists Kehinde Wiley, Tai Shan Schierenberg and Tyla Vaeau. Through these multiple commentators – unforgiving, forgiving, insightful and funny – the film offers a 21st-century view of a 19th-century wild man.
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist. Unappreciated until after his death, Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of color and Synthetist style that were distinct from Impressionism. Toward the end of his life, he spent ten years in French Polynesia, and most of his paintings from this time depict people or landscapes from that region.
His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Gauguin’s art became popular after his death, partially from the efforts of art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who organized exhibitions of his work late in his career and assisted in organizing two important posthumous exhibitions in Paris.
Gauguin was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and writer. His expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential proponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.