Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin, the French Post-Impressionist artist, is about as famous as the cruise ships named after him. His bold forays with colour led to the Synthetist movement in Modern Art, while his composition and subject matter led to Primitivism and the seeds of Cubism. In short, the man known as the stockbroker turned savage, would come to influence art in ways never thought of before. In fact, his influence can still be seen today in the form of an up and coming Calgary artist.

Before we focus on the Gauguin painting Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? from 1897, let’s consider Gauguin and his influence on Picasso, the modern master. Gert Schiff, the notable Picasso biographer, wrote in 1983 about the importance of Gauguin’s painting in capturing the allure of escape and the possibility of reinvention in Picasso: “Here the old artist revives one last time that dream which Paul Gauguin had impressed so forcibly upon his generation: the flight from civilization. To think there are whole peoples who lie in the sand and pipe upon bamboo canes! To think that it should be possible to rid oneself of all norms and necessities of modern life, of the curse of individuality – to live a life without memory, hence without death; to come into being and disintegrate like a plant and to span the interim safely embedded in the mythical collective of a primitive society.”

Yes, while continental Europe continued industrialising and simultaneously throwing itself into two world wars during Picasso’s lifetime, it would only seem natural that an artist would yearn for the idyllic. Schiff, continuing to write on Picasso’s last years from 1963-73, continued with Gauguin’s influence: “Could it be that the brain itself is the result of a faulty development? This question seems to lurk behind those large paintings like Nude Man and Woman and The Aubade in which Picasso transforms his bucolic figures into budding primeval giants”. The primeval giants is exactly the sense in which, nearly 100 years later and a continent away in Canada, that artist E.T.N. Smibert has created an art exhibition named Our True Nature. In response to Gauguin’s searching question of where we are from, what are we, and where we were going, a room is filled with yellow leaves, tents, a night sky and nature sounds played from a computer. According to Smibert, he aims to answer Gauguin’s question by discovering the pre-existing connotation, rather than subjectively attaching implications to it. Smibert says: “What about the meaning of life? All human beings desire happiness and wish to avoid suffering. That is a pretty good place to start before you make or do any action.”

Also, if you are after an original Gauguin painting, you better get in line for tomorrow’s Christie’s sale of The Collection of Lew and Edie Wasserman in New York City. As well as notable works by Degas and Matisse, the evening sale will include a beautiful fan-shaped watercolour by Paul Gauguin, estimated about $700,000. Not too pricey, we say.