Gauguin is best known for his gorgeous paintings of Tahiti in which beautiful native girls sit enticingly on perfect South Pacific beaches. But has the fame of Gauguin's Tahiti pictures blinded us to the bigger truth about his achievements? Acclaimed British host Waldemar Januszczak believes so, and his epic biography of Gauguin follows the painter through the twists and turns of a fateful life.
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This is a wonderfully done and entertaining biography/art history adventure. I thought I new Gauguin pretty well (art minor) but I have been learning a huge amount, all sorts of insider detail and the bits that most accounts skip over of or just get wrong, like the way he abandoned his family). Waldemar has a wonderful presentation so every bit is enjoyable to watch and listen to. This doesn't arrange him within art history/impressionists and post impressionits, other artist only get mention as they interact personally; there's not really grand theme, and it's fairly sympathetic to Gauguin who has some, er, questionable character traits, but it still you could call it even handed. Highly recommended!
Reviewed in the United States on September 24, 2018
I like WJ. He's not afraid to give his educated but sometimes sideways opinion, and he always makes me rethink the proscription on artists that one normally is given in museums, movies, etc. This film is especially valuable if you have viewed Gauguin's work, and even more valuable if you have seen some exhibits or his work at multiple venues. I had really disliked Gauguin until I saw his work at the Courtauld. Later, I saw a retrospective and did some reading. But watching this show fleshed out some of those sometimes trite and uninformative legends you read under the painting or in a book caption, which for good or ill form your knowledge about the artist (who should never be confused with their art). WJ's insistence on the deep influence of Peruvian culture seems to be spot-on to me. I also had somehow never appreciated until now how Gauguin just picked up the brush, the clay, the coconut and had at it, and with so much technical success and deep affect. He never stopped doing his art.
As a Peruvian, I would like to begin by pointing out the racist, and ignorant comments the presenter (host?) makes. The pre-colonial art, pottery, etc. are all but impractical, as he refers to them. The judgment about these artifacts is disgusting and unnecessary. Second, the travel Gauguin made to Brazil could not have ever felt like coming home. Peru and Brazil are not the same f***ing country. They are both rather diverse geographically, geologically and culturally. Indigenous Peruvian peoples are not the same as indigenous Brazilian peoples. Peru was colonized by Spaniards, Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese. There is no intersection culturally there at all. This claim is like assuming, that Germans and Italians are the same because they are all European. Ignorant. I am an Art Historian, with a MFA degree. I enjoy any learning opportunity and understand that most of history is written from the "White male perspective." However, to still in this day and age begin a DOCUMENTARY with such racist "observation," judgments and commentary is just wrong. How about delivering the facts with less self colonialist indulgence. Also, asking the owner of the house where Gauguin used to live in Lima, why no signs advertising that Gauguin ever lived there is approached idiotically. This because of the manner in which it was done. So...we do things a certain way in Europe, why don't you (in your own continent, in your own independent country, with your own history and idiosyncrasies) do what we do in Europe? I have never found myself so angry and disappointed at a documentary. This is a first for me.
the ugly bad-I found this narrator from OK to extremely annoying, he seemed to be by that faulty flicker of constant characteristic stricken : he fancied himself not only omniscient, but all-knowing of all that makes up one of the truly divinely cursed/bless'd, which involves what/how'd they think
the beauty good- allow'd tiny entrance(all that's allow'd) in/on to the blood trail of this man's mirror of God thru self
I learned a great deal I had not previously known. For example, I didn't know that Gauguin was a multimedia artist. Didn't know that he was a sculptor; or that he worked in ceramics; or that he was a woodcarver (he even made his own wooden clogs, & they look pretty darn professional too).
I especially liked the structure of this film, i.e., that it was filmed on location, in chronological order, in every location where the artist had once lived. That helps the viewer understand the trajectory of Gauguin's life, & it also allows the viewer to see how G's work evolved throughout his lifetime. At least it did so for this viewer.
A digression: Somerset Maugham, who was a novelist/playwright and unusually rich (at a time when there were no income taxes), went to Tahiti before WWI & purchased a "Gauguin-on-glass" painting. It's now in a New Orleans museum, I think. Perhaps because he didn't have canvas at the time, G had painted a triptych on three contiguous windowpanes at a small house out in the Tahitian boondocks. Maugham discovered that the owner's kids had already scratched the paint off of two of the three windows, & had started in on the third. Maugham bought the sole surviving Gauguin-on-glass for a pittance. Maugham was subsequently criticized for paying so little! Maugham defended himself by stating the obvious: "First of all, I paid the owner twice what he was asking for it. More importantly, if I hadn't found it, bought it, and brought it home with me, you wouldn't be looking at it today, & no-one else would've ever had a chance to see it, either. Would that have been a better outcome?"
This is another of the spectacular biographies/art history reviews produced and directed by "J. W" (I cannot spell his name, or pronounce it!--no matter, his work is great). The filmmaker's style is one of intelligent investigation and not sappy hero-worship or platitudes. I also suggest his series on Impressionism, the best I've seen. I love to paint oils, so I can appreciate these films--but anyone can who prizes beauty and intellectual discovery. A must see.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 6, 2013
Already having a small knowledge of both men, an interest in artists and their lives, I chose this dvd thinking I would likely enjoy it, & find it satisfied my curiousity and add to my knowledge. It succeeded very well on all fronts If you are interested in getting down to the nuts and bolts of what 'makes' and 'drives' an artist...(and a researcher/writer)( & they are all so very different) I really do recommend this dvd.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 18, 2013
Gauguin by Waldemar Januszcak.
Very well presented by Waldemar Januszcak. I watched it twice, and loved it. It is well researched and one can see that Waldemar knows what he is talking about.. I would recommend it to all art lovers. I discovered many new things about Gauguin, he was a real genius.
5.0 out of 5 starsA very well-researched and detailed account of the great artist Paul Gauguin's life
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 22, 2014
A very well-researched and detailed account of the great artist Paul Gauguin's life. It tells it factually as it was and does not seek to 'airbrush' some of the darker aspects of his life. It clearly brings out the sheer genius of the man and his fantastic and inspirational life and times. The story of his life in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands is extremely well-documented. The overall impression is a reverence, shared by many during his lifetime, for his sheer talent and brilliance.