Sunday 15 February 2015

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin paintings that we saw during our 'Impressionist' day in London.

Gauguin developed his own particular style which consisted of flat patterns of colour and simple outlines, before he moved to Tahiti. Tahiti was not what he had expected. Instead of Paradise, he found a colony - a society that had been destroyed by colonialism where alcoholism and prostitution were rife. But even so, the bright colours of the island helped to give his palette an even more resonant intensity. He believed that colour could act like words; that it held an exact counterpart for every emotion, every nuance of feeling. Painting's task was not to describe but to express.

At the National Gallery:

Paul Gauguin, Harvest: Le Pouldu, 1890

Women harvest wheat in a field on the edge of a deep blue sea. This stretches away into the horizon, emphasising their isolation. The simplified, unrealistic forms and the bright contrasting colours are intended to demonstrate the primitivism of life in Le Pouldu, where life is eked out from the poor soil and the sea.

At the Courtauld:

Haystacks, 1889

Spatial recession and perspective are deliberately ignored. The haystacks and the bush to the left are simplified and rendered only as bright patches of flat colour.

Te Perioa (The Dream), 1897 

Te Perioa was painting during Gauguin's second stay in Tahiti. It shows two women watching over a sleeping child in a room decorated with elaborate wood reliefs. The figures do not communicate, heightening the sense of mystery. Gauguin meant the subject to be unclear. He wrote: 'Everything is a dream in this canvas: is it the child? Is it the mother? Is it the horseman on the path? Or even is it the dream of the painter!!'
Nevermore, 1897

The two women in the background and the 'bird of the devil that is keeping watch', as Gauguin called it, seem to be conspiring against the reclining woman. She lies awake, perhaps conscious of being watched. The title evokes Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven', in which a poet, driven mad by the loss of his love,  hears a raven repeating endlessly 'Nevermore'. Here, Gauguin suggests the loss of innocence referring to the destruction of Tahiti by colonialism.


  1. Amongst my favourites at the National Gallery of Scotland when I was young were the Gaugins:

    In fact Vision of the Sermon came a close second behind my love of Degas' Woman Drying Herself - a beautiful pastel:

  2. Olga, Vision of the Sermon is my favourite Gauguin painting, but I keep forgetting about it, so that when I see it, as in your link, it's such a wonderful surprise and strong sense of recognition. I think that this is because I have not seen it 'in the flesh' so to speak, but only in reproduction. Another good reason why we need to go to Scotland - it's been on our list of places to visit for quite a while now but somehow, other things get in the way. The Degas is exquisite.