Thursday, January 16, 2014

Paul Gauguin

I was in Boston on Tuesday, had a couple extra hours, and went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see my favorite painting in their collection: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). It was a grey and rainy afternoon, the museum was as close to empty as it ever gets, and I spent forty-five minutes in relative quiet looking at the painting. Always an amazing experience, but especially good when able to be alone in its presence.

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Paul Gauguin
54 3/4 x 147 1/2 inches     Oil on canvas     1897–98
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I've often said that the painters of the early Renaissance have had a major impact on my thinking, but Gauguin's work has also been an extremely significant influence.

He was a wonderful colorist, the light radiating out from within the picture - especially in his Tahitian work - and his compositions are sublime. In this painting, two triangles improbably balance each other: a large one on the right filled with golden colors, containing the young women, and a smaller triangle on the left with the darker tones of the elderly woman and her companion. The arms of the blue idol in the background complement the movement and anchor it.

Gauguin wrote that this painting should be "read" from right to left - from the infant in the right corner through the young women to the elderly woman crouching at the far left - and he intended this work to be a final summation of all he knew about painting and about life. He started directly on the canvas with no preliminary drawings, and when it was finished, made an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide by taking a large dose of arsenic. He became violently sick, but survived and lived five more years.

detail: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Below are two more of my favorite paintings by Gauguin ... again, beautiful color and composition:

Paul Gauguin
23 5/8 x 45 5/8 inches     Oil on canvas     1897
Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

Two Tahitian Women
Paul Gauguin
37 x 28 1/2 inches     oil on canvas     1899
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Footnote: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? was sent to Paris upon completion and consigned to the art dealer, Ambroise Vollard. It then went into three or four private collections, before being acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in 1936 from the Marie Harriman Gallery in New York for $80,000 (ca. $1,350,000 today).

1 comment:

  1. This piece on Gauguin is superb. Thank you for bringing me back to the strange and strangely immaculate beauty of his work.



"There is more power in telling little than in telling all."
- Mark Rothko

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the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.”
- Amedeo Modigliani