Meet the Gauguin obsessive who’s trying to prove that major art museums are showing fakes.
It’s the nude that bothers Fabrice Fourmanoir.
The way she’s painted is “unsightly” and “vulgar,” quite unlike the Polynesian women of his mind’s eye. Nor does he like the way she’s artificially inserted on the canvas, part of what he calls an “uninventive assemblage” with no coherent symbolism. Yet there she stands at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, in a painting titled “The Invocation,” attributed to Paul Gauguin.
But Fourmanoir’s roving, inquisitorial eye doesn’t stop there. He’s similarly bothered by another painting, this one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, titled “Women and a White Horse.” Though it’s labeled as a Gauguin, its signature is “very weak,” he opines. And the background vegetation looks more like Tahiti than the Marquesas Islands, where Gauguin was living when he was supposed to have painted it.
Fourmanoir isn’t your average weekend art sleuth. The life and works of Gauguin have consumed him for many decades. These two paintings make him suspicious, so much so that questioning their integrity has become a personal crusade. He thinks they’re impostors, and he won’t rest until there’s a full investigation.
Born in Calais, France, Fourmanoir, 63, might once have been dismissed as a crackpot, a wannabe who would never be welcomed into the sophisticated enclave of art scholarship. But since January he’s gained some standing in this forbidding world, after playing a leading role in a blush-inducing admission by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles that a Gauguin sculpture, purchased in 2002 for a reported $3 million to $5 million, is not actually by Gauguin. Now, even as some of the most renowned art scholars continue to look with withering skepticism at Fourmanoir’s motives and credentials, he plans to make the most of his newfound status.