Huge Gauguin masterpiece makes rare visit to Japan

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A huge masterpiece by Paul Gauguin is set to go on display in Japan for the first time after making a rare trip outside its home at a U.S. museum celebrating the anniversary of its only Asian counterpart.

The monumental “D’ou venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou allons-nous?” (Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?) is the highlight of a special exhibition of the Post-Impressionist master’s works that opens on Saturday at the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The museum in Nagoya in central Japan, the Asian counterpart of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

“Our partnership has reached a very important milestone, and it is fitting to celebrate it by bringing a great Gauguin painting that has not been to Japan before,” Malcolm Rogers, director of the MFA, told Reuters.

“Japanese wood block art influenced Gauguin, and there is also great interest in his works in Japan,” he added, explaining why the artist’s works were chosen for the exhibition.

The exhibition, entitled “Gauguin,” spans two decades of the artist’s extensive career, beginning with an early landscape painted when he was still in France and ending with one of the artist’s final works created just months before his death in the Marquesas Islands in 1903.

It features about 20 works from the MFA’s collection, including paintings, woodcut prints and sculptural reliefs, and about 20 works on loan from museums in Japan.

The most significant display is “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?,” considered by Gauguin to be his artistic and spiritual testament and painted in the late 1890s as his health and mental state started to deteriorate.

The painting, which measures 4.5 feet by 12.25 feet, is rich in the artists’ trademark details and vibrant colors, with three groups of figures apparently pondering the questions raised in the title.

“The painting sums up the uncertainty in human life, it has universal relevance, which is what makes it fascinating, as the questions posed are ones that everybody will think about at some point in their life,” Rogers said.

Due to its size and value, the painting has rarely left the MFA since it was purchased in 1936, he added.

“Gauguin” will run from April 18-June 21 in Nagoya, before traveling to Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art, where it will be on display from July 3-September 23.

Reporting by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Hugh Lawson