Nudity painted by Gauguin has divine beauty and nothing scoundrel – 05/23/2023 – Jorge Coli

Delacroix, after great successes as a painter in Paris, leaves for North Africa. He spends seven months there and returns transformed. “How they deceived me!” he reportedly exclaimed when contemplating the lives of Moroccans and Algerians.

The slow, harmonious movements of people; the clothes —jelabas and caftans— inhabited by slow and harmonious gestures, admirably colored; the Mediterranean luminosity, completely changed his painting.

That “how they deceived me” referred to the neoclassicism of David and his school, which seemed artificial and false to him compared to the natural, authentic, noble classicism that he discovered in the daily life of the Arabs. “There, everything is just order and beauty, / Luxury, calm, voluptuousness”: Baudelaire, “Invitation to travel”.

In the 19th century, the search for the exotic was not always guided by a superficial interest and the frisson of fashion. In some cases, it meant the search and discovery of a core in which stability, harmony and balance, denied by the agitation of industrial society, resulted in an essential classicism, beyond the copies of antiquity that were made in the schools of fine arts. -Art.

Delacroix found his classicism in the Maghreb. Later, Gauguin would find his in the Pacific Islands.

It is this Paul Gauguin that Masp now reveals in the exhibition devoted to the artist.

Exposure has many qualities. It is not one of those “canned” shows that come ready-made from abroad: they can be interesting and bring beautiful works, but when they are well thought out by local curators, they acquire another meaning. In addition, it has a precise focus, very different from the exhibitions that, under general titles, are nothing more than vague pretexts to assemble a nonsensical production, without real connection and coherence.

Gauguin’s works from various international collections intertwine with the two paintings that the São Paulo museum has of him, the “Self-portrait (next to Golgotha)” and the “Poor Fisherman”.

Masp already had “Joseph and the Woman of Potiphar”, all three painted by Gauguin in Tahiti in 1896, but the latter had to be returned to the Wildenstein gallery due to lack of payment in times of lean cows.

The design of an exhibition like this is essential for a deeper perception of the collection. For some time now, Masp, which is much more focused on the arts of today, has shown a lack of interest in the original humanist project of Pietro Maria Bardi and Assis Chateaubriand, that of forming an anthological museum in Brazil that would cover the history of Western arts.

All the more reason to be happy with this exhibition, which highlights and in well-thought-out parallel —excellent explanatory sheets accompany the canvases— with other works, two of them capital of its collection.

At a time when Brazilian museums do not hesitate to get rid of an essential Pollock or a fabulous Louise Bourgeois because they are foreigners and what they understand is “prioritizing Brazilian art”, in a shallow and narrow nationalism, highlighting a collection made up of great universal masterpieces is a gesture of great importance.

Furthermore, although it is a concentrated collection of paintings, 21, and (sublime) engravings, 20, they are far from being minor productions. On the contrary, they are very well chosen works, very important, coming from various parts of the world. It is, therefore, an exhibition that reveals reflection and study, something increasingly rare in the Brazilian artistic environment.

It highlights that “classicism” of Gauguin’s that I would call “archaic classicism”, for lack of a better expression. A classicism that reaches its apogee in the paintings he produced in the tropics, made of thoughtful and balanced composition, both in the fullness of the volumes and in the colors, powerful, but graduated to avoid excessive violence in the contrasts.

This classicism has its referents —Cézanne (just look at the splendid “Still Life with Square Basket”, from the Oslo museum) or Puvis de Chavannes (perceivable in so many canvases, in particular the essential “Mahana no Atua”, from Chicago)— and archaism too—Egyptian art, of which “The Poor Fisherman” offers an excellent example—and the forms discovered among the Polynesians. All this, and more, converges into a synthesis of powerful originality.

As a result, the nudes of native women, one of his favorite subjects, acquire that distant, sovereign beauty, whose admirable sensuality is located in a world of superior grandeur, possessing none of the scoundrel nudes that then clogged exhibitions of European paintings.

These are not ordinary Western women stripped of their clothes for immediate sexual stimulation. When shown in Europe, they frightened contemporaries. They have something divine, they belong to a universe that is not ours and that is superior to ours. Like Michelangelo’s David or the Venus de Milo.

Because, precisely, classicism and archaism must be understood here as a search carried out by an ascesis, which takes us to the world of mysterious communion between culture and nature, a world that Gauguin feels to have existed among the natives of Polynesia, and that, melancholy, he sees it collapsing thanks to infiltration from the West.

It is in the engravings that the arcana of this world are forcefully manifested: Gauguin developed a taste for rough and strong woodcuts, for eloquent simplification, for barbaric and ardent forms of hidden and primordial mysteries.

Art means here, therefore, an opening to spirituality: Gauguin traces a path that will reach Kandinsky. It is for this search for higher unspeakable perceptions that he deserves the label “symbolist”, as he is often classified.

In this, he is in tune with the avant-gardes of his time, and it is not difficult to discover in his splendid paintings sinuosities of plants that take us back to art nouveau, the taste for highlighting fabric prints and chromatic chords that lead to Matisse.

A surface painter, a line painter: he decorated the wall of his room, when he took refuge in Brittany, with reproductions of Manet’s “Olympia”, several Puvis, Japanese prints, Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, the “Annunciation ” by Fra Angelico, all poets of the line and the drawing it outlines.

In his youth Gauguin was a sailor and then a money changer, well established, married with children. But while trading on the stock exchange, he took up painting. At the entrance to the exhibition, to complete the self-portrait belonging to Masp, the curators placed three more.

One of them, the impressive “Gauguin in front of his Easel”, from Fort Worth, so structured in composition, shows the painter trying to leave, through the look, through the expression, this framing and the well arranged life to launch himself in the uncertain paths of the painting of Vanguard.

Another self-portrait takes us into the world of Brittany: before crossing the ocean, Gauguin escaped the bustle and futility of Paris to take refuge, with a band of artists, in this rainy region of France. It is the painting “Good morning, Mr. Gauguin”, in the version of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. It constitutes an anguished commentary on the well-known “Good morning, Senhor Courbet”, in which the “Origin of the World” painter showed the paths of marginal, independent art.

But while Courbet, in his painting, triumphs over the public, symbolized by a collector, very sure of his certainties, Gauguin is huddled in an overcoat, his face hidden by a cap, and is greeted by a peasant woman. The marginal trails are neither secure nor triumphant, and communion with the humble world of peasants is more important than recognition of the powerful.

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