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Paul Gauguin colored Tahiti perhaps not the way he saw it but the way he wanted it to be. This is the tragic flaw of his legacy. Society is usually forgiving toward artists, especially post-mortem. But Paul Gauguin’s later biography seems to push people to the limits of tolerance, and if not for the wise reminders of waters under bridges, we could have defrocked his mythic persona and chastised him in press conferences, just like what happened to Lance Armstrong.
|Image Source: freemanart.ca|
Roughly, here’s what he did: He sold Tahiti to us fans in installments of dishonest art. Some of us didn’t buy the titillating, half-nude themes, as the white man’s burden has long lapsed into a cynical appreciation of noble savages, and how sophisticated they eventually turned out to be. Gauguin’s paintings, in blocks of naturalistic colors and picnic airs, depicted a tropical paradise with a manifest sexual ease. His representations seduced his French compatriots back home and reduced Tahiti to a greedy flicker in occidental eyes. Taken at face value, these paintings are things of beauty, albeit fantasist.
|Image Source: daily-norm.com|
It doesn’t help that new details surfacing about the life of the artist serve new rounds of a public trial. He was most-documented as a wife-beater and a swindler who played his peers’ impressionability. His florid musings about French Polynesia in the most exotic terms were meant to manipulate curiosity toward his paintings and his own persona. In the grips of art exceeding intention, how far are we willing to overlook these deluded depictions which were plucked from the malice of an otherwise talented painter?
I ask because in the book of Roman Magnus morals, I have yet to find an artistic villain to oppose my artistic heroes. Candidates other than Paul Gauguin can tweet me here.