Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Getty Gauguin Grab Makes New York Times Website Front Page - But Not...

.... on the Los Angeles Times website.

March 12, 2008
Getty Museum Buys a Seldom-Exhibited Gauguin
LOS ANGELES — The J. Paul Getty Museum announced Tuesday that it had acquired “Arii Matamoe,” an 1892 painting by Paul Gauguin that has been in a private collection in Switzerland for decades and has been exhibited publicly only once since 1946.

The museum would not identify the seller or say how much it paid for the work. Getty officials said the painting was in good condition and would probably go on display next month after cleaning and modest restoration.

Another painting by Gauguin from the same period, “Te Poipoi” (“The Morning”), was purchased by a Hong Kong collector in November at auction at Sotheby’s for $35 million, or $39.2 million including the buyer’s premium.

Created during Gauguin’s first extended stay in Tahiti, “Arii Matamoe,” whose title Gauguin translated as “The Royal End,” depicts the severed head of a Polynesian man resting on a white cushion set on a low table or serving platter. A mourning nude female figure crouches nearby, framed by skull motifs on the wall behind her. In the background, other figures rest outside the house.

While the painting may have been loosely inspired by the death of the former Tahitian king Pomare V, just after Gauguin’s arrival in Tahiti in 1891, it does not depict an actual person or even common Tahitian death rites, said Scott Schaefer, the senior curator of paintings at the Getty.

Rather, Mr. Schaefer said, Gauguin probably created the painting “to shock Parisians” when it was exhibited in 1893 at Durand-Ruel’s gallery. The only recent public viewing of the painting was in 1998 as part of a Gauguin exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland. Mr. Schaefer said the painting had had only three or four owners in its history. It was moved from Paris to Geneva in 1941, he said, was sold during World War II and once subsequently to a private collector there, where it has remained.

Michael Brand, the Getty’s director, said the acquisition was “one of the key moments in the history of our collection.” The museum owns three other works by Gauguin: “Eve (The Nightmare),” a transfer drawing from 1899 or 1900, the artist’s later Tahitian period; “Portrait of a Tahitian Girl,” a black chalk drawing from 1892; and a wood sculpture, “Head With Horns,” from 1895-97.

Elizabeth Childs, a Gauguin scholar who is chairwoman of the department of art history and archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis, described “Arii Matamoe” as a major painting in which the artist uses “a wonderful mélange” of motifs and symbols from Tahitian, Javanese, French, Peruvian and other cultures.

“There are enough references here that it is clear that Gauguin was remaining interested in proving himself to a Parisian art market,” Ms. Childs said, even after he retreated to Tahiti.

Though the subject matter, the public display of a severed head, had no specific reference in Tahitian society, the death of Pomare V might be relevant to the work, Ms. Childs said. Pomare had overseen the annexation of Tahiti as a French territory, and his death left the French as the only real power there.

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