Paul Gauguin’s grave. His is the only one in the cemetery made of the local red volcanic rock. Also, you can see that instead of a cross his grave is marked by a statue of a Polynesian figure to the left of the grave and a painted block of rock (hard to see) on the back right corner.

Alert: short but somewhat nerdy art history interlude follows.

While in Atuona (see previous post) I took in a couple of cultural attractions. On a hillside overlooking Atuona sits the cemetery where the French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin lies. He lived here for the last two or three years of his life, at the end of a prolific career and rather a stormy personal life. He never met with material success or artistic acclaim in his lifetime; only a decade or two after his death did the art world come around to embracing the primitivism and duality of savagery and sensitivity he explored in his work and recognizing the influence he had on painters such as Picasso and Matisse. In Gauguin’s own words, he strove to live “in art and for art.”

Aha Oe Feii Aka What Are You Jealous - Paul Gauguin - www.paul-gauguin.net

Aha oe feii, image courtesy of www.paul-gauguin.net

You may well have seen a poster or repro of Aha oe feii (What? Are you jealous?), the famous oil of two Tahitian nudes on a beach. Gauguin also worked as a sculptor, writer, printmaker, and ceramist.

Also in Atuona are Gauguin’s house, a basic but light and airy one-room bungalow of about 600 square feet (roughly 60 square meters) and next to it a small, completely unpretentious museum. It has no Gauguin original paintings but rather shows copies, some of them perhaps digital reproductions of copies, of a great many paintings. It also offers much explanatory and historical text, quite a lot of it in English as well as in Tahitian and French, that does a good job of straightforwardly surveying the artist’s career and personal life, and conveying a sense of what the man strove for artistically as well as the personal demons he battled.

OK, it wasn’t quite the Louvre or the Hermitage, but visiting Gauguin’s grave and seeing where he lived and worked for a couple of years was a thrill for me, a bit of real-world perspective added to what had been just college-kid art history readings and glimpses of a few paintings in museums here and there.


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