Art Institute of Chicago Presents GAUGUIN: ARTIST AS ALCHEMIST Exhibit Review – A Bridge to Imagination

Art Institute of Chicago GAUGIN: ARTIST AS ALCHEMIST
Paul Gauguin. Self-Portrait with Hat, winter 1893–94. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, acquired with the participation of an anonymous Canadian donation, 1966.

Imagine finding yourself in post-Impressionist France in an emerging artist’s atelier. As you set foot in the Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago the surrounding pastel walls are lined with lively paintings of the artist’s children. The love and adoration for his subject is palpable, yet within those paintings there is a desire for more and hints of greatness to come.

A Man of Many Mediums

As you walk through the exhibit it truly begins to feel like a home. A rustic yet artfully crafted armoire with ornate carvings takes center stage in the room as dreamy paintings and unusual pottery line the halls. One can clearly see that Paul Gauguin paved the way for a new approach to art.

Although originally getting his start painting with other Impressionists, as that was the style of the time, he soon found himself drifting off into uncharted waters. Along with his paintings, he delved into other art forms as well, such as furniture design, printmaking, sculpture, and pottery.

He was scoffed at for partaking in such art forms as they were not considered fine art. It was in these experiments, however, that he cultivated his craft and broadened his horizons stating, “To think that I was born to work in an applied art and that I cannot succeed. Whether stained glass or furniture, earthenware, etc…They are in essence my aptitude, much more than actual painting”.

Inside the Mind of the Artist

As you wander further into the exhibit Gauguin’s work challenges your mind and begs the question— What is real and what is fake?. His early paintings depict normal scenes, such as still lives and depictions of his children, yet there is an ethereal quality to everything. The subject’s dreams and thoughts are literally projected onto the painting, creating a bridge from reality to the artist’s imagination.

Gauguin’s later works are even more abstract as the artist paints not what he sees, but what he wishes he sees. With flat uniform color and defined lines, reality becomes less of a concern for Gauguin. The subjects of the painting become only a means to express the essence Gauguin wishes to portray. Memory, reality, and imagination become one, stupefying and captivating the viewer.

Wonderfully Curated

Strolling through the exhibit, the evolution of Gauguin is evident. You follow his journey from wannabe Impressionist to an artist in a category all his own. The breadth of his work is dumbfounding. Alchemist is perhaps a more fitting term for Gauguin, a man looking to transform any materials, whether wood, clay, or paint, into something greater.


All photos courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago GAUGIN: ARTIST AS ALCHEMIST
Paul Gauguin. Vase in the Form of Leda and the Swan, 1887–1888. Private collection.


Now through September 10, 2017


The Art Institute of Chicago

111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603


Tickets are available for purchase on site or online at 

Art Institute of Chicago GAUGIN: ARTIST AS ALCHEMIST
Paul Gauguin. Arearea (Joyousness), 1892. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, bequest of M. and Mme Lung, 1961.

Slider photos:

Paul Gauguin, with Émile Bernard. Earthly Paradise, 1888. The Art Institute of Chicago, through prior gift of Henry Morgen, Ann G. Morgen, Meyer Wasser, and Ruth G. Wasser; restricted gift of Edward M. Blair.


Paul Gauguin. Clovis Sleeping, 1884. Private collection.


Paul Gauguin. Mahana no atua (Day of the God), 1894. The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

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