Gauguin, Artist as Alchemist
Exhibition June 25 • Sept 10


Becoming Gauguin

Gauguin became an artist after traveling the world as a merchant marine and working as a stockbroker’s assistant. His unconventional artistic path made him uniquely open to exploring a wide range of materials, including wood, wax, and ceramics.

My goal was to transform … by intelligent hands which could impart the life of a face to a vase and yet remain true to the character of the material.


Traveling the World

Gauguin spent the first six years of his life in Peru and, as an adult, lived in Paris, Brittany, Martinique, Tahiti, and the Marquesas Islands. In every place, he absorbed—and reinvented—the local artistic and cultural traditions.


Reinventing the Past

When Gauguin first traveled to Tahiti, he was dismayed to find that much of the local culture had been transformed by colonization. The works he created there are not historically accurate but rather his reimagining of what the island might have once been.


Discovering New Methods

Gauguin not only worked as a painter, sculptor, ceramist, printmaker, and decorator—he also invented new processes in many of these areas. Sometimes he was responding to the physical or financial limitations of a place; other times it was his desire to do what no one had done before.


Experimenting to the End

Gauguin was radically creative throughout his career. He never stopped experimenting with new methods, and his art continues to fascinate because it remains unpredictable, contradictory, and enormously varied in medium, form, and content.

Utilizing new research, the exhibition sheds light on Gauguin’s working processes with a series of “how to” videos.

My Breton canvases have become rose water because of Tahiti; Tahiti will become Cologne water because of the Marquesas.

Come explore Gauguin for yourself.


Member Previews: June 22–24

Open daily 10:30–5:00
Thursday until 8:00

Plan your visit

The exhibition is organized by
Art Institute of Chicago Réunion des Musées Nationaux Musée d'Orsay