Tate Modern Gauguin exhibition poster

Tate Modern’s Gauguin exhibition poster

Something that’s fascinated me for a long time is the rationale behind advertising campaigns for exhibitions, like the one that pops up on the Tate’s website for Gauguin: Maker of Myth. Most of you will be aware that the primary marketing tool of any exhibition project is this type of poster image. The standard for Tate, and many other institutions, is the exhibition title and an image selected from the works of art that will be in the exhibition. So far, so obvious! Some of you will know the painting we’ve used for the Gauguin poster - it is Nevermore O Tahiti from the Courtauld Institute in London.  

As the weeks go by, you’ll be seeing more and more of this advertisement, especially if you live in London - on buses, on the underground, in newspapers, online, all over the place. What do you think of the poster? What messages does it send out? What kind of discussions to you think we had at Tate, before we settled on that particular painting? Thinking about it, it’s a big ask for one work of art to represent and characterise a whole project, especially when you’re dealing with an artist’s whole career. I guess in marketing terms the issue is very straightforward, i.e. what immediately comes into people’s minds when you mention Gauguin’s name? I was at my local gym last weekend (don’t ask…) and I was chatting to someone about my job and what projects I was working on. I mentioned the Gauguin exhibition and they immediately said ‘Isn’t he that painter who lived in Tahiti?’ Perhaps it was inevitable then, that we chose a Tahitian subject to advertise the exhibition, and an image of one of Gauguin’s girlfriends (to put it rather coyly) to boot. But while this painting is in many ways an obvious choice - it’s one of Gauguin’s most celebrated works after all - there’s something very intriguing about it. What do you think?

Gauguin Nevermore

Painted lady: Gauguin’s Nevermore

Image courtesy Courtauld Collection

I find her expression quite haunting, and there’s a sadness pervading the image. Or am I being led by the title Nevermore O Tahiti, which Gauguin painted onto the canvas itself…perhaps an allusion to the idea of paradise lost (Gauguin was certainly familiar with Milton’s epic poem) or Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven? Sometimes it seems that Gauguin’s titles are as important as the works themselves. He carved, painted and etched enough of them on his sculptures, canvasses and prints. Nevermore O Tahiti is a rare example in English but many more are in Tahitian (or what Gauguin thought was Tahitian!) Aha oe feii? Or E haere oe I hia? How about Manao tupapau? We’ve devoted a whole gallery to investigating Gauguin’s titles, what purpose they seem to serve, suggesting stories and narratives to the viewer. And that’s where you’ll find Nevermore O Tahiti on display…if you come to the exhibition, that is…  

Comments

Nicholas C

Great deal to make Gauguin show in time of uncertain world. We all may rethink what is needed what's not. He lived and painted this in kind of Tahitian paradise...Paradise lost? One conceptualist may tell, sure it's lost forever and we live in Hell. Live just to make everyone think or make everyone work. Think about what and work with which purpose? Actually it's true. Perhaps Paradise is lost for humans not seeing art... Never by Gauguin himself, could this be found on Earth? Actually it's not too difficult, we have just to open eyes wider and look for beautuful kind of living...

Christine Riding

I think its a great answer...I wonder if there's some self-reproach in this image...perhaps an acknowledgement of his complicity in the fate of Tahiti as a colony. In a very similarly composed painting by Gauguin, called 'Manao tupapau', which means 'The spirit of the dead keeps watch', the figure in the background represents 'the spirit', which explains the girl's anxiety...

Liza

What they said. Plus the typefaces are all wrong. Really bad font choice for the name, and a bad color as well. I'm actually shocked that The Tate would have such a bad design.

I hope this isn't the poster that will be for sale in the Museum shop. yikes.

Mike

Is there a more reproachful image in western art?

To me, this is Gaugin acknowledging his guilt at defiling innocence. Not only the young woman has been used by him, but her culture, too, is about to be used by others from his culture. The figures in the background are like a pimp, taking money for the services of the young woman. Community, based on family and tribe, is being replaced by commerce, based on contract and exchange.

It's about lost innocence, exploitation and shame. It's a very dark painting. The Raven underlines the implicit warning.

Innocence is lost - nevermore to be regained.

Is that too grim?

Mr yan

Give me a kind of feeling like a young woman that what she thinks in her mind! IN all kinds of suiation,it has lots of meaning!I can only guess two kind!
1.a young woman remind her young husband
2.a young woman want to be free
it's only some my own thinkings!please do not smile to me !

Christine Riding

Dear all,
Loved your comments! Its a complicated image, I think, that seems to suggest more than it answers. Its certainly one that we may find today a little unnerving.
Annette: Well done for finding Gauguin's comment - its so typically him that he says the raven is 'not exactly' Edgar Allan Poe, when the Raven in the poem says 'Nevermore'. Unbelieveable!
Keep the comments coming!
Christine

thomas

I work alongside a group of people who I would describe as a fair representation of the general public - a few that couldn't be bothered with art and think its all a con, some who don't have an opinion either way, those that have a passing interest and know names of artists such as Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Hockney etc. And one or two who really like art and try and get to as many exhibitions as possible and have a broader knowledge of art - although must add we don't consider ourselves as experts, its just a love of art.

Anyway, I have just copied the image of the painting you used for your poster and cropped right down to just the girls face and enlarged it. I then asked my fellow work colleagues about what they thought of the picture. Without exception everyone said she looked sad. Many others also added that the girl appeared to be looking at someone in a distrusting manner - probably the artist (their words not mine). Thus for many of my colleagues they saw something which they didn't regard as a lovely image. With this in mind I wonder if Gaugin captured the girls face as he saw it? I think he probably did just that and possible her look of sadness/mistrust was directed towards Gaugin. There is also the likelyhood that Gaugin himself instructed her to look sad and mistrusting? However when look at the picture as a whole the girl appears to be looking behind her - perhaps listening to the noise of the bird (Raven) or the two individuals talking together. As you suggest Christine the image certainly is intriguing.

Caz Chalklin

Hi Christine

I agree 'Nevermore' is a rather disturbing painting; apart from Gauguin's 'girlfriend', the colours are dark, and what are the apparently European people doing by the door. One could conjure a story of her listening to people discussing her fate....and there's that raven!

Even the cutdown version seems to represent someone listening to an unnerving sound outside.

Thank you for your blog; it is many years since I looked properly at a Gauguin image, this has made me look forward to the exhibition, rather than go because there might be something I'll enjoy!

Lightdragoon

But this now opens up a lot more questions. Is there much discussion over the use of image? Was this the most obvious choice, or were there others in the running? Who decided? Was the imput from Curators alone or did the Marketing dept have a say? Was the cropping of the image a consideration, bearing in mind the public use of the posters?
Thanks Christine - keep us questioning!

chirpy-iris

to me it seems that the tahitian woman is waiting to know the outcome of the conversation between the other two. why is she naked? what has happened for her to be so?

Kezi

What does a raven usually symbolize? Were there often European characters in the background of Gauguin paintings?

Annette

Interestingly enough this was, I believe, Gaughin's own description of his work -
"I wanted to suggest, with a simple nude, a certain long-vanished barbaric luxury. The whole thing is saturated with colors that are sombre and sad; it is neither silk nor velvet, nor batiste, nor gold that creates luxury here, but simply matter that has been enriched by the hand of an artist. As a title, Nevermore; not exactly the raven of Edgar Poe, but the bird of the devil who keeps watch... I think it is a good canvas

Amelie

This image raises the question, on what level did he communicate with this woman from such a different society? Could he speak the language? Is she worried she will be unable to bear children after contact with this stranger? Although I like his paintings, they raise so many socio-pollitical questions by todays standards ....

If 'The Raven' is invoked, what was haunting Gaugin?