Paul Gauguin The Little One Is Dreaming

A family portrait: Paul Gauguin’s The Little One Is Dreaming, Study 1881

Ordupgaard, courtesy Copenhagen

We’ve had a number of comments on the blog about Gauguin’s relationship with his wife and family. As you probably know, this is one of the subjects that really divides opinion - was he right to pursue his destiny as an artist, even if it meant that his children would suffer financially and, with his prolonged absences abroad, grow up without him? I find myself pondering on this issue when I’m standing in front of this painting of four-year-old Aline, called ‘The Little One is Dreaming’, in Gallery 2 of the exhibition. Born in December 1877, Aline was Gauguin’s second child and only daughter with Mette. According to the biographer David Sweetman, Gauguin was ‘totally besotted’ by his baby daughter and, interestingly, remained so for the rest of his life. Can we see this intense emotional attachment in the painting? Is it a straightforward image of innocence or a dream-world, with the birds on the wallpaper above hinting at an imaginary or subconscious world? Or is there anything sinister about this world…what about the little clown doll on the right? (To quote Carrie Bradshaw from ‘Sex and the City’, ‘there’s nothing scarier than a clown’…) We also have a little scrapbook that Gauguin made for Aline in 1893, in Gallery 9. It is a strange and wonderful object, full of press cuttings, personal reflections, prints and sketches. Unfortunately Aline never received the book - she died in 1897 aged just 19. In April of that year, Gauguin wrote to Daniel de Monfreid from Tahiti: ‘Your letter arrived at the same time as a short but dreadful letter from my wife. She informed me bluntly of the death of my daughter, who was snatched from us in just a few days by a fatal attack of pneumonia. This news did not distress me at all, hardened as I have been for a long time to suffering; and then each day, as thought kept piling in, the wound opened up, becoming deeper and deeper, until now I am completely overwhelmed…’ Does anyone out there feel sorry for Gauguin?

Comments

Cathy Trodd

Yes, I feel sorry for Gauguin.His wife rejected him when he followed her to Denmark.

paul anderson

I went yesterday and had to leave it was far too crowded, I could not see half of the exhibition for sheer numbers of people, lotsof my friends have had a similar exoerience and will not be going to another tate modern exhibition as they have no idea on how to control numbers

Lightdragoon

Loosing a family member is always hard, even if it doesn't always hit at the time. I can sympathise with the way it crept up on him, perhaps with feelings of guilt because he wasn't there to see her grow up. The doll is an odd touch, perhaps almost a self portrait? the way it looks out at us from the corner rather than being part of her room. It doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the picture.

Cheryll Kinsley...

My only thoughts when I first looked at this painting, was how it must have had a huge influence on Lucien Freud!

Al

Hey if you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined

M. Lee

How sad you should feel like this. We went Saturday night at 7pm and we were able to see everything. It wasn't heaving with people and rather than state you would never go again to a Tate exhibition, please consider the late night opportunities. Friday and Saturday until 10pm. I really recommend going then. Or even mid week first thing.

M. Lee

Yes, Gaugin was a very strange guy. He seemed to enjoy painting and drawing himself, narcistic perhaps?. I do feel sorry for his wife. He certainly enjoyed the company of women. I think the clue is at the beginning of the exhibition. On the wall there is a comment from Gaugin I can not remember the exact quote but he states that an artist has to experience everything rather than stay at home with his slippers - ha! Do we have 'sympathy for the devil' to quote a quote? I think not. He was after all a syphilitic paedophile. A fascinating exhibition.

Sue Purkiss

I know a lot more about Gauguin than I did before going to this wonderful exhibition, but I still don't feel I know nearly enough to comment about his attitude to his family. I'd want to read lots of letters, both from him and from his wife, to feel I had more of a clue as to what was going on. Certainly on the face of it he seems to have treated them appallingly; and his relationships with young girls later on in his life seem bizarre and exploitative. What happened to all the children he left behind, I wonder? And yet, this picture, and the other one of one of his children asleep, I thought were beautiful and tender. How could you not feel sorry for his pain on hearing his daughter had died at such a young age?

I thought it was a fascinating exhibition too, and it left me wanting to know more. I particularly liked the Breton paintings - partly, I think, because we were in Brittany this summer and went to Le Pouldu - till then, i had very little interest in Gauguin. It was very serendipitous to come back and find out that this exhibition was on!

Ailsae Stubbings

I too found the viewing of the exhibition very difficult due to the large numbers allowed in to the timed entry: particularily annoying and obstructive were the sketchers who stood with their books in front of many of the works for up to twenty minutes-there were at least eight of these young women(yes, they were all women!) at the viewing I attended with two Australian friends.The large baby buggies were a bit of a hazard too. We had all travelled a pretty long way at some expense to see this exhibition and though what we did manage to view was thought-provoking and encouraged much discussion and speculation we do feel somewhat short-changed by the whole experience. Due to travel difficulties an evening visit was not an option for us.Perhaps the sketchers could attend on a specially dedicated evening or buy the books and copy the works after leaving the exhibition.

ron giii

My brother has 8 kids but lost a baby in crib death so he decided to have another child and lone behold he had twin boys now 11 years old and driving the tractor.ron giii

Fiona

I went on Saturday during the 10:30am slot, and whilst I absolutely loved and learned a lot from the exhibition, it was far too crowded. There were at least 8 people crowding around every single piece and it was difficult to get past into the next room. A bit disappointing really - I thought as we were allocated a set time slot the Tate Modern would control the number of visitors more effectively.