Mr. Gauguin’s Heart: The Beautiful and Bittersweet True Story of How Paul Gauguin Became an Artist
Many great artists have in common the ability to transform trauma into creative power. Among them is the great French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848–May 8, 1903), whose work influenced such legendary artists as Picasso and Matisse.
A wonderful addition to both the best children’s books about making sense of loss and the finest children’s books celebrating cultural icons, Mr. Gauguin’s Heart (public library) by writer Marie-Danielle Croteau and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault tells the bittersweet, unbelievably beautiful story of Gauguin’s early childhood and how, after his father’s death, the young boy sought solace in art and transmuted his grief into his first painting.
In this 2004 debut, Arsenault — whose genius has produced such subsequent treasures as Jane, the Fox & Me, Virginia Wolf, and Migrant — once again reveals herself to be one of the most gifted and evocative visual storytellers of our time.
We meet young Paul, a little boy who lives with his beloved parents, his sister Marie, and a dog he adores — “an odd-looking, little orange dog” with whom Paul goes everywhere, plays constantly, and even has conversations.
But the oddest thing about the little orange dog is that is that only Paul can see it.
One day, the Gauguins depart for Peru, and Paul’s imaginary companion boards the ship with the rest of the family. The other passengers find the bond between the boy and his invisible friend endearing — a testament not to his strangeness but to his boundless imagination.
It is a joyous journey, until Paul finds his mother in tears one afternoon.
She told Paul and his sister that their daddy had been carried away.
“How?” the children cried.
“It was his heart,” Mrs. Gauguin answered.
Marie threw herself, wailing, into her mother’s arms. Paul said nothing. He didn’t understand what it all meant. He didn’t see how being carried away by one’s heart could be such a tragedy.
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