Gauguin paintings at the National Gallery and MFA Boston may be fakes. Fabrice Fourmanoir is out to prove it

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.

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Gauguin Review

The conceptual dullness of the new French biopic Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti hit me especially hard, since I was fired up to see those Tahitian pictures after a June trip to Paris and the Musee D’Orsay, where many of them reside. Have you been to a highly-touristed art museum lately? It used to be that if you wanted to get close to study the brush strokes it was a guard who’d ask you to step back. Now, it’s people who yell at you for blocking their iPhone photos. The museum’s Postimpressionist area would be a great place to get lost, but, like Paul Gauguin, it ends up making you want to flee civilization for shady pandanus glades halfway around the world — preferably without Gauguin’s raging syphilis.

The syphilis isn’t mentioned by name in Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti, although Gauguin has an unspecified cough that will obviously be fatal, because in biopics there is no such thing as an inconsequential cough. But as played by the febrile Vincent Cassel, this Gauguin seems too tightly wound for sex. The image of Gauguin the voluptuary eating and screwing and painting naked Tahitian women might be a cliché, but the director, Edouard Deluc, has gone to the other extreme. Although the script is based on Gauguin’s own writing, the film presents him as such a gloomy Gus that he might have swapped souls with his onetime pal Van Gogh.

The movie opens in France, where Gauguin is stricken that his oh-so-proper wife won’t come to Tahiti with the kids — though I imagine she’d have put a crimp in his lifestyle if she had. He does need her family money, since rich people are finding his latest works a mite unruly. He’s also dismayed that none of his fellow painters or acolytes will abandon Paris for distant French Colonial paradises. What Deluc gets right is that Gauguin, like most great artists but few in great-artist biopics, spends most of his time not carousing but sitting in front of canvases. What doesn’t come through is how entwined in Tahiti Gauguin’s various impulses were. The artist tells a doctor friend, “I paint and draw all day long and live in harmony with everything around me,” but you don’t see Buddhist oneness in Cassel’s face, especially as he ages into someone resembling Fagin. Non-transcendental, too, are composer Warren Ellis’s somber cellos and violins [. . . ]

Continue at THE VULTURE: Gauguin Review