Artists’ morals shouldn’t matter when rating their art. Woody Allen’s romantic relationship with his stepdaughter Soon Yi has zero bearing on his movies. But when assessing Paul Gauguin’s paintings, his morals matter.

(More about that in a moment).

Gauguin shows off his immoral ways in a rarely viewed illustrated journal “Avant et apres” (before and after) written the year he died at age 54 from syphilitic heart disease. The memoir is on display at London’s The Courtauld Institute of Art, where the UK’s largest Gauguin collection is held.

'Naughty child'

Gauguin said his memoir was full of “idle tales of a naughty child who sometimes reflects and is always a lover of the beautiful.” Always? That’s hard to reconcile with his son Emile’s revelation in an unpublished letter that his father bloodied his mother’s face with his fist.

Besides wife-beating, there’s Gauguin’s pedophilia – his sexual relationship with the 13-year-old Tahitian girl called Tehura – who he used as a model in his most famous paintings.

It’s for that reason you can’t escape his disdain for morality. Gauguin pictured it, his erotic exploitations in his paintings. By contrast, Allen kept his private life with Soon-Yi out of his movies.

Uncountably, The Courtauld considers Gauguin’s crimes and misdemeanors a “debated legacy,” adding, “if you’re prepared to suspend conventional moral judgment — it’s very entertaining.”

The exhibit ends with this question: “Is Gauguin redeemable?” The exhibit answers its own question - “No.” He would probably like that answer.

Having abandoned his wife and five children, he aimed to be an outcast. “I do not know love,” he wrote. “To say I love you would break all my teeth.”

Shock art

As Emile Gauguin noted in the preface to his father’s memoir: “All his life my father mocked smugly respectable people, shocked them deliberately. What is more fitting than that he should continue to shock them after his death?”

I’m not certain “shock” is the operative word.

Maybe in his time, in the 19th century. But now, Gauguin's pooh-poohing bourgeois morality comes off like a garden variety rebellious teenager.

All of which renders the enthusiastic remarks from The Courtauld’s director Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen over the top: “Having been lost from view for almost a century, the re-emergence of the original manuscript for ‘Avant et après’ is a sensational event.”

Again, maybe back in Gauguin’s day, you could call the display “a sensational event.” But the painter doesn’t have a lock on caddishness in the art world.

Lucien Freud was a preeminent misogynist who fathered 12 children with different mistresses.

But here’s the thing. Freud didn’t show his disregard for women in his paintings. Gauguin’s images of female natives of the South Sea Island of Tahiti are not only sexist but racist, too.

And, you can also throw in the label colonialist and white supremacist owing to all his pictures of women and girls in French Polynesia.

Second opinion

Adrian Searle, art critic for The Guardian also sees Gauguin as a colonialist, chauvinist, and exploiter. But he sees all that as a plus, saying. “His faults are what make him great.”

It looks like gender matters in this discussion. Nancy Mowll Mathews wrote in her 2001 book “Paul Gauguin, An Erotic Life” that the painter “portrayed the natives as living only to sing and to make love.”

Making these native females objects of his erotic fantasies was Gauguin’s business. But he made it our business when he put them in his paintings.