Gauguin was a bad boy and he paid for it, dying of syphilis aged just 54.
You see him in this self portrait with one of his classic paintings in the background. In it a naked young girl is observed by a devil like death - or is she is dreaming of it? Gauguin excused himself as so many have done in the past: he is a genius and it is for art's sake.
But what does that make the gallery visitor? As you enter the Gauguin exhibition currently on at the Tate Modern you find yourself face to face with this very picture, the Manao Tupapau or Spirit Of The Dead Watching.
It is a disconcerting image on many levels, but that is something that Gauguin would have relished. Often in his paintings he seems to challenge the viewer. Rather than just paint a still life of fruit there'd be a mischievous face to one side, watching.
Many of his pictures are from his time in Tahiti. He imagined it to be unchanged and unspoilt since the first westerners arrived on HMS Dolphin, where the sailors were warmly welcomed by the local girls. He was depressed to find a land changed by French colonialism and Catholic missionaries.
Gauguin, though disappointed, seems to have replaced the reality by layers of imagined or reconstructed myths taken from sources as wide apart as Greece and Easter Island. Though surrounded by the most beautiful of blue water it rarely appears in his paintings. There are just the odd boat, not very good ones at that.
For his eyes were most definitely on land, and on those young girls in particular, and you could see the resignation in their faces.
The exhibition leaves a disturbing picture of a man with many demons of his own: I did wonder whether the devilish figure in the picture above was Gauguin himself, aware of his own mortality and the path that would take him to his death.
3 hours ago