Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We going? by Paul Gauguin (1898)
D’où Venons Nous
Que Sommes Nous
Où Allons Nous
A few days ago, I went back and read my first posts in this blog. The premise was to pick a piece of artwork, and write about how through its meaning or how it made me feel, decipher how it reflected the activities of that said day. That was a lot of work, it required so much thought and critical reflection and research into the histories surrounding the artwork. It was an exercise that required me to look within myself and expand the passion that I have for artwork. Rereading over my thoughts and worries the summer prior to University made me realize how I have let my passion for art fall by the wayside. I used to derive so much enjoyment through reading about background of a piece, I could not get enough. I’m so thankful to have art history as a hobby, and I want to be more intentional about making time for it. Learning makes me happy, learning about things that you are passionate about is even better.
So that being said, today’s piece of artwork is by the always lovely (unless you are a Tahitian woman) Gauguin. He struggled as an artist in France until he moved to Tahiti, and his depictions of this “primitive” land became a “must have” for collectors throughout Europe. This painting was intended to be a suicide note, the essential part of the work is “that which is not expressed”. When viewing the painting from right to left, it clearly depicts the life cycle. A young mother and her baby, then the fullness of life symbolized by the Tahitian reaching up to grab the fruit of life, and finally old age in the form of an elderly woman who holds herself in a gesture of despair. Death, the normal conclusion for the cycle, is not here. The real subject of the work is the inevitability of death- of the painter by suicide and of all mankind. A week after its completion Gauguin attempted to overdose on arsenic but survived, only to die of syphilis a few years later. I had the pleasure of seeing this painting first hand in Boston a few years ago, it is massive, and beautiful. The colors are unforgettably lush, and while looking at it you can only assume the personal anguish from depression that Gauguin experienced while painting. The title of the piece, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? are questions that we wrestle with as humans throughout all stages of life. My hope is that through this artwork, Gauguin was able to find some peace with the answers to those questions.