Paul Gauguin’s Healthy Advice

Paul Gauguin, The Ham, 1889, Oil on canvas

Paul Gauguin, The Ham, 1889 (detail). Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1951.

A brief story in the Washington Post about the health value of onions (“nutritional powerhouses” according to Runners World magazine) made me think of one of my favorite works in the collection. Those little onions in Paul Gauguin’s painting The Ham (1889) set next to the slab of ham have long been the subject of folk lore and even folk  medicine. According to the article, onions “help protect the brain, keep the heart healthy, strengthen bones, reduce cancer risk and aid digestion.” The rosy pink color of Gauguin’s onions indicates that they are likely Roscoff onions, a distinctive and popular crop in Brittany,  historically sold by men called Onion Johnnies, who hung bunches of onions by their braided stalks from the handles of their bicycles.

Lisa Leinberger, Volunteer Coordinator

Early Ballet Films

Degas thought of himself as a painter of movement. As lovely as his paintings are, his dancers are frozen in their poses, beautiful bugs in amber. What if we could go back in time to watch a performance?

When motion pictures were invented, the camera was focused on anything that moved – trains, people, horses, and yes, dancers. There are no movies of ballet dancers during the late 19th century, but there are a precious few of ballet during the early 20th (close enough). With film, a famous dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet could be watched anywhere over the globe, or, a century later, delight us over the internet.

La Sylphide solo 1903

Pas de Deux 1902

Dance exercises at the barre 1920

And this beguiling couple….
Geltzer & Tikhomirov, husband and wife in the Bolshoi Ballet – Pas de Deux

This last performance reminds that, aside from the dance master, there are no male dancers in Degas’s ballet scenes. This recalls Gauguin’s paintings of Tahiti, in which there are few, if any, men depicted. Was Degas, like Gauguin, creating his own private paradise?

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant

Phillips Petting Zoo: Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, The Ham, 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection. Acquired 1951. Photo: Claire Norman

This is a series is about animals, but no, this is not a post about the pig from which The Ham is derived . . .

Notice near the rim of the café table Gauguin signed the work “P GO”. The artist often abbreviated his signature with these initials and when you say “P GO” in French, it sounds indistinguishable from its homophone, “pego,” nautical slang for penis. This double entendre wouldn’t have been lost on Gauguin; he spent six years in the French merchant navy. On her blog, Tate Curator Christine Riding discusses how the museum almost called a children’s book on birds and animals in Gauguin’s art “P GO” until someone pointed out the name’s indelicate connotation.

Paul Gauguin, The Ham (detail), 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1951. Photo: Claire Norman

In 1901 Gauguin settled on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, and there he acquired a little dog he named “Pego.” Perhaps that’s him in lower right corner of the late painting, Marquesan Man in a Red Cape, although Gauguin painted many dogs throughout his career, including these adorable puppies.

In 1998 June Hargrove, my graduate school advisor, met Pego’s descendant pictured below; he lived on the grounds of the Gauguin Museum in Mataiea, Tahiti. The director of the museum told her that in the 1960s a scholar researching Gauguin received a canine descendant of Pego from someone in Gauguin’s family. He brought the pup to the museum. Apparently, by the time she took this photo, Pego’s progeny had populated the place.

Canine descendant of Gauguin's dog Pego. Photo: June Hargrove