Friday, September 20, 2013

Gauguin, Paul

The Red Cow
oil on canvas
90.8 × 73 cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA

"Do not copy nature too much. Art is an abstraction. " (Gauguin)

"The Red Cow" is painted during his stay in Brittany. It is representative of rural peasant life in 19th Century Europe. There were "three levels of French society, rural workers, urban workers, and urban bourgeoise" during that time period. Peasant images were quite popular among artists like Gauguin who had grown to despise the corrupt nature of European urban society, and found the simplicity of country life more to their taste. The issue of class is critically addressed in this painting which represents the peasant class as hard-working and pious and by extension more desirable as human beings than city people who use machines, and do not have to grow their own food and goods.

Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903) was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist. In 1870, he began a career as a stockbroker and remained in this profession for twelve years. He was a financially successful stockbroker when he began collecting works by the impressionists in the 1870s. Inspired by their example, he took up the study of painting under Camille Pissarro. In 1882, after a stock market crash and recession rendered him unemployed, Gauguin decided to abandon the business world to pursue life as a full-time artist.

In 1891 his rejection of European urban values led him to Tahiti, where he expected to find an unspoiled culture. Instead, he was confronted with a world already transformed by western missionaries and colonial rule. Gauguin had to invent the world he sought and he interwove the images and mythology of island life with those of the west and other cultures. He lived in among the natives but his health grew poorer; An ankle he had broken in Brittany did not heal properly, and he suffered from strokes. He had to depend on menial jobs (work that is beneath a person's skills) in order to support himself. In 1901 he moved to the Marquesas Islands. He died there, alone, of a stroke on May 8, 1903.

Gauguin’s art was not popular while he was alive. After his death, he was recognized for his experimental use of colors and synthesist style that was distinguishably different from Impressionism. His greatest innovation was the use of color, which he employed not for its ability to mimic nature but for its emotive qualities. He applied it in broad flat areas outlined with dark paint, which tended to flatten space and abstract form. This flattening of space and symbolic use of color would be important influences on early twentieth-century artists. Today, he is regarded as a highly influential founder of modern art. His unusual combinations of objects and people can be seen as forerunners of the surrealist (using fantastic imagery) art of the 1920s and later.