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Paul Gauguin

SOMETIMES IT TAKES an exhibition for us to see a familiar artist’s work afresh. This is certainly the case for Paul Gauguin, whose reputation increasingly tends to obscure his achievement. Viewers have long been suspicious both of his art and of his personal behavior (taking a thirteen-year-old “wife” in Tahiti is the best known of his misdemeanors). His countless depictions of “primitive” Breton peasants and half-naked Polynesian women are condemned, respectively, for their metropolitan condescension and for their sexual and racial stereotyping, and his work is also taken to task for its inauthenticity: Although presented as the direct record of his experiences in Brittany and the South Seas, it has repeatedly been shown to be copied from commercial photographs or tourist postcards and from the compositions of colleagues. The same is true of his prolix writings. Noa Noa (1893–94), his

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