Saturday, January 11, 2014

Gauguin, Paul

Day of the God (Mahana no Atua)
oil on canvas
68.3 x 91.5 cm
Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA
Late in 1893, Paul Gauguin returned to France from Tahiti and spent much of 1894 either in Paris or in the small Breton village of Pont Aven. His health was poor and his financial situation even worse. Day of the God is one of a small number of paintings of Tahitian subjects that Paul Gauguin made in France. An imaginary rather than realistic depiction of the South Seas, it is dominated by an idol of the goddess Hina. To the right of her, women dance the upaupa, a suggestive ancient Tahitian dance that missionaries and colonial authorities tried to suppress. In a middle ground of pink sand sits a female bather flanked by ambiguously gendered figures lying on their sides. Although the arrangement of this trio seems symbolic - perhaps of birth, life, and death - Gauguin made its exact meaning an enigma.
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.