This half-documentary, which was created in conjunction with the same-named exhibition now on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., provides a handsome overview of how the groundbreaking French painter Paul Gauguin repeatedly invented new public personas while he dramatically reinvented the depth and scope of modern art.
Once a Parisian stockbroker who collected paintings and dabbled with brushes and palettes, Gauguin was overtaken by the creative urge to capture his artistic feelings. It wasn’t easy, especially since he sought out inspiration in areas that fell victim to 19th century bourgeois social pollution, most notably the coastal villages in Brittany and the tropical settings in Martinique and Tahiti. Unable to capture what he saw, Gauguin created what he felt he should be viewing: simple Breton peasant villages and lush Caribbean and Pacific paradises that remained unspoiled by the ugly advances of the so-called modern world.
In spinning these artistic myths, Gauguin set an example later followed by modern rock stars of reconfiguring how the public viewed him. He placed himself into many of his works, using his sharp features to take on the image of the untamed savage, the fallen angel and the eternal wanderer. Although he rejected the tenets of the Roman Catholic religion, he nonetheless maintained a spiritualism that allowed him to transpose Biblical passages into unlikely settings and colors, most notably his reconfiguring of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus as Tahitian natives.
This DVD provides a glorious surplus of the Gauguin paintings – including many works that were previously unavailable for American viewing – that were gathered for the National Gallery presentation. Alfred Molina provides Gauguin’s voice for narrative dramatizations of the artist’s writings, while Willem Dafoe offers narration for the full documentary.
For anyone who has ever been struck in awe by Gauguin’s brilliance, this DVD is a keeper. And viewing Gauguin’s work anew while gaining a greater appreciation of his complex yet progressive personality, one can truly understand his famous comment: “Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art.”