Gauguin: and the caption is…

As some of you will know, I posted a blog on Tuesday with an image of ‘La Perte de Pucelage’ or ‘The Loss of Virginity’, one of Gauguin’s great paintings. Many thanks to all of you who responded (and will respond) – quite incredible…on so many levels!

I promised to post the text that will be accompanying the painting, when it goes on display in Gallery 5 of the exhibition, called ‘Landscape and Rural Narrative’. So here it is…

Paul Gauguin's 'La Perte de Pucelage' / image courtesy Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA

The Loss of Virginity relates a young girl’s sexual awakening to the natural landscape. Gauguin referred to the fox – a recurrent motif in his work – as the ‘Indian symbol of perversity’, though Breton folklore also identifies it with sexual power. The crowd of figures in the background may be a wedding party coming to meet the deflowered girl. Although painted in Paris at a time when Gauguin was closely involved with Symbolist writers and critics, the landscape is recognisable from other works that he made in Brittany. The model was Juliette Huet, a seamstress. She was two months pregnant at the time, and gave birth to their daughter Germaine while Gauguin was in Tahiti.

And just to keep you up to date with the exhibition, all this week the building contractors have been busy constructing the galleries, painting walls and getting the space ready for us to begin installing Gauguin’s works next week. Works of art have started arriving at Tate Modern and we will begin moving them into the exhibition galleries bright and early on Monday morning. I shall keep you posted – with lots of pictures and blog posts - as to developments from day to day. But in the meantime, wish us luck!

Gauguin: Maker of Myth opens at Tate Modern on 30 September. Book tickets online or become a Tate Member or Tate Patron and visit for free.

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Gauguin: Write your own caption!

What caption would you write for this? Gauguin's 'La perte de pucelage' / Image courtesy Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been finishing off the ‘interpretation’ material for the Gauguin exhibition. This includes the exhibition leaflet, which everybody gets when they buy a ticket, the ‘mission statement’ for the exhibition as a whole, introductory texts for each gallery and explanatory texts for individual works of art.

At Tate, we allow ourselves about ninety words to discuss a work in further detail. Here’s Gauguin’s ‘La perte de pucelage’, one of his most mysterious and complex paintings. Remembering that the subtitle to our exhibition is ‘Maker of Myth’, do you fancy writing a ninety-word caption for this painting? If so, send it in…and on Friday, I’ll let you know what we wrote…

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Gauguin: painting the walls…but what colour?

Have you ever wondered about the wall colours in exhibitions, how and why they were chosen? Have you loved them, or loathed them? Did they enhance or detract from the works of art? I’ve been mulling over this recently, mainly because we’ve been choosing paint colours for the Gauguin exhibition. What colour, for example, would you hang Gauguin’s Yellow Christ on?

On what colour of wall would you hang this? Paul Gauguin's 'Yellow Christ' (1889) Image courtesy Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery Buffalo, New York

This isn’t as straight-forward as you may think. For example, take Tate Britain’s current ‘Eadweard Muybridge’ exhibition. Wonderful photographs, but black and white. Is that why the curators chose a range of rich wall colours, such as plum, pink and green? Should the reverse happen for Gauguin, whose colours can be so bold – bright yellows, blues and pinks, and vermilion, his favourite colour (you can see it as the background colour to The Vision of the Sermon).

Colours can have certain associations and resonances. You probably know that, on the whole, the convention for showing contemporary art is white walls. Historic art is very rarely shown on white. Why? Think of Tate Britain’s permanent displays, which are broadly chronological – you move from green and red for the historic displays, to light grey for the modern displays, and white for the contemporary collection.

When beige was the new red. John Lavery's 'The Opening of the Modern Foreign and Sargent Galleries at the Tate Gallery, 26 June 1926

This is nothing new. In 1926, a suite of galleries were added to the Tate site at Millbank for what were then called the ‘Modern and Foreign’ collections. The hang included Impressionist art and Gauguin’s Faa Iheihe, which had been donated by the art dealer, Lord Duveen, in 1919.

Paul Gauguin's 'Faa Iheihe' (1898) / Tate

These galleries were decorated with beige fabric. You can just make this out in John Lavery’s painting, through the doorways on the right. The historic art was hung on red brocade, as you can see in the foreground gallery, which is hung with paintings from the Turner Bequest.

This is the bit that fascinates me. The gallery leading into the ‘Modern’ section was hung with Turner’s unfinished oils and sketches from the 1830s and 1840s, which had been re-evaluated by the early twentieth century as a bridge to Impressionism and Abstraction. The gallery was redecorated in beige.

Can the historic, the modern and the contemporary be colour-coded? If so, what colours do you think we’ve chosen for Gauguin?

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Tate Archive 40 | 1977
Edward Burra ‘Musical Inspiration’

I’ve chosen the papers of Ed Burra to represent the collections we acquired in 1977. Ed Burra (1905-1976) was an English painter, illustrator and stage designer.  Three of his works are currently on display at Tate Modern: ‘Keep your head’, ‘Coffee Stall’ and ‘The Snack Bar’. Despite life-long ill health, Burra travelled widely and as often as possible. He visited France, Spain, America and Mexico, and spent much of his time in bars, nightclubs, dance-halls and cinemas from which he drew inspiration. Burra is best known for his depictions of the urban underworld and black culture, especially the Harlem scene of the 1930s.

This district was widely regarded as the epicentre of the ‘Harlem Renaissnace’, a cultural movement in which the American black community rebelled against the racist attitudes of the North American white population. Echoes of this political-cultural development reached Europe – especially Paris and London – through the medium of Jazz, which became the quintessentially modern popular music of the era of the gramophone. By the mid 1920s Burra had become an avid collector of Jazz records and had a great passion for music.

The archive I have picked includes Burra’s record collection. The 236 78rpm discs cover jazz, blues, swing, rock and pop, Latin American and Spanish music – including artists as varied as, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Vera Lynn, Edith Piaf and Janice Joplin.

I’ve chosen these items because I think it’s fascinating to see how the music inspired art, and also because it’s an unusual thing to find in an archive. We do also have all the things you’d normally expect in personal papers – letters to and from his friends (often lavishly illustrated), sketches and sketchbooks, diaries, photographs, exhibition catalogues and press cuttings – but the records say something a bit different about him.

Do you think that having these records tells us more about how Burra was influenced by his love of music?

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Written by Emily Down

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Hi, I’m Paul Gauguin and I’m a Gemini

I have a confession to make. I always find myself turning to the end of newspapers to look at the horoscopes.

At the moment I’m reading star-sign entries for Pisces (me) and Gemini (Gauguin). Born 7 June, Gauguin was indeed a Gemini (the Twins), along with Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara, Clint Eastwood and Peter the Great, and shares a birthday with ‘Beau’ Brummell, Tom Jones and Prince.

I was a bit disappointed that he wasn’t born an Aries (the Ram), or Taurus (the Bull), or even Capricorn (the Sea-Goat), so that I could have made some witty analogies between these creatures and Gauguin’s character, appearance and art. But then again I’m a twin, so maybe its fate.

Apparently Geminis are known for their duality and changeability (right?) They’re also great communicators. And – I’m reliably informed – they’re likely to be involved in journalism. Gauguin’s father, Clovis, was a journalist (I have no idea what star sign he was) and was the editor of the republican newspaper Le National.  Gauguin too was involved in journalism, setting up his own journal Le Sourire (The Smile) in Tahiti in 1899.

Cheeky and irreverent, the contents were written and illustrated by him, primarily in protest against local injustices and the colonial administration.

Gauguin and journalism – a case of ‘like father, like son’?  Or maybe it was written in the stars…

Gauguin: Maker of Myth opens at Tate Modern on 30 September. Book tickets online or become a Tate Member or Tate Patron and visit for free.

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Tate Archive 40 | 1976
Charles Keen ‘Punchy’

TGA 766/344, Illustration of Robinson Crusoe, c. 1847, Tate Archive. Copyright Tate Archive

My name is John Langdon, and I’m one of the archive curators. I look after post 1968 archive acquisitions and digital records. I have chosen this drawing by Charles Keene from amongst the Archive collections for 1976.  It is a small sketch in pencil, done as part of a series of illustrations for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.  The sketch first caught my eye because of its subject – Robinson Crusoe’s story is still well known, long after it was first published in the eighteenth century, even featuring in a current insurance ad on tv.  Here we see Crusoe setting out with his dog, a familiar figure in the hat and clothes he made himself.

This drawing is a preliminary study, which Keene would have later worked up into the finished illustration.  As an archive curator, one of the parts of the job that I most enjoy is the chance to see artists’ preparatory work and how it relates to their finished pieces.  The Archive contains many sketchbooks, drawings, maquettes, and objects used as source material, all of which give a glimpse into how an artist worked.

For me, there is added interest in the drawing when I looked at it in the light of Keene’s career.  Keene did the illustrations for an 1847 edition of Robinson Crusoe.  He had just finished his apprenticeship with the Whymper Brothers, well known wood engravers.  Robinson Crusoe was his first major book, and would have played an important part in launching his career.

Keene was later to become known for his work for Punch. The long association between the two began in 1851.  Although at first reluctant to put his name to his drawings, his CK monogram was to appear on a regular flow of illustrations that lasted until shortly before his death in 1891.  Acutely observed and precisely drafted, his work focussed on contemporary society, capturing a range of social trends and characters.  He often appeared in his own work, his spare, unconventional figure recognisable to those who knew him.

TGA 766/345, Illustration of Robinson Crusoe, c. 1847, Tate Archive. Copyright Tate Archive

This drawing is one of a large collection of drawings and engravings by Keene held at Tate Archive.  The collection includes other illustrations for Robinson Crusoe, sketches, and a substantial number of engravings from Punch.  Tate Archive also holds material relating to other artists who produced illustrations, including Fougasse, who followed Keene at Punch, John Banting, and Paul Nash.

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Written by John Langdon

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