Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




I Couldn't Care Less!

Another Eden in the South Seas



The people of Tahiti have invented a word: "No artu", which means "I couldn't care less!" Here it means pretty much the same as complete serenity and naturalness. You cannot imagine how I have grown accustomed to this word. I often say it -and I understand it.

Paul Gauguin, Letter to Georges Daniel de Monfroid, 7 November 1891


Coconut palms, pristine white beaches, crystal-clear azure waters, natives leading modest but happy lives in peace and harmony and colourful tribal festivities. In the early twentieth century a great many people in the Old World dreamt of the South Seas. Burgeoning industrialisation and increasing traffic were beginning to infringe on the peace of the cities and the countryside alike, creating unnecessary stress and a hectic way of life. The sparsely populated islands dotting the Tropic of Capricorn were viewed as a veritable paradise in comparison. There, weary Europeans thought they might find the unspoilt natural beauty of the Garden of Eden and a people living in serene harmony in such an earthly paradise. That at least was Paul Gauguin's vision.

The Frenchman had spent several years at sea before embarking on a brilliant career as a stockbroker. At the age of thirty-four he decided to give up everything thinking, mistakenly as it turned out, that he could live from his painting. His circumstances grew increasingly difficult. He first moved to Rouen, then to Brittany, before settling in Aries with Vincent Van Gogh, only to return to Brittany shortly afterwards. His nomadic life inspired creativity, but led to a destitute existence, ultimately causing an irreparable rift between him and his family. Finally, he abandoned his wife and children. The prospect of leaving everything far behind may have sparked his love of adventure, for soon he was on his way to Tahiti: "The future will belong to the painters of the tropics because no one has yet painted them, and we always need novelties for the general public, the stupid purchasers of art." On 8 July 1891 Gauguin arrived at Papeete, the capital of the Tahitian Islands. However, the paradise of "noble savages", which he had thought might be free of the temptations, vices and defects of European life, turned out to be a delusion. The light, the lush vegetation and natural beauty, the exotic customs and friendliness of the natives did not disappoint him. Daily life, on the other hand, was rife with the corruption and oppression that accompanied French colonial rule, leaving a grey veil over the brilliant colours of his South Seas Arcadia. Gauguin married a Tahitian, settled down in a typical Tahitian house and was soon in conflict with the French colonial authorities. Beset by ill health and chronic poverty, he was forced to return to Pans in 1893. Two years later he fled to the South Seas again, first to Tahiti and then to the Marquesas Islands, where he died in 1903 in a hut he had decorated with his paintings. Although his dreams of paradise had not been fulfilled, Gauguin painted powerful pictures full of joy and serenity while in the South Seas. In one of his letters he declared: "Life is so delightful here and my work so salutary that it would be madness to seek this anywhere else."


Paul Gauguin
Where are we? Who are we? Where are we going?
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


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