Stories behind the Works of Art
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? (1897). Gauguin
Gauguin used extreme color to generate emotional impact; he stopped imitating nature to move towards simplification as in “primitive” art. He did not follow the rules of perspective and was not concerned about depth. For all these reasons he was one of the most influential artists of modernity.
This painting, perhaps the most important of his legacy, has a fascinating history as it is actually his “testament.”
Gauguin had decided to commit suicide. He was living in that paradise called Tahiti, but at the same time he was living in misery, disappointed with his friends because they did not help him, sick, alcoholic and devastated by the news of his daughter’s death: “My daughter is dead. I don’t love God anymore.”
Gauguin had decided to die, but first he would work for a month on his most ambitious, final, definitive painting, which he had been thinking about for a long time. He said that it would surpass all the previous ones and everything he might eventually paint in the future.
“I put into it all my energy, a passion so painful in circumstances so terrible, and my vision was so clear that all haste of execution vanishes and life surges up.”
And he painted the cycle of life: the innocence of the newborn, the temptation of the young man picking a fruit and the resignation of an old woman in a fetal position before the approaching death. (A great detail is that the white bird at the feet of the old woman, holding a lizard, means for Gauguin “the uselessness of vain words.”
Once he finished the painting, he went to the mountains and took an overdose of arsenic that the doctor had prescribed to treat a skin problem.
And there, the man with the least faith in the world experienced a miracle: Gauguin vomited the poison and survived (he lived 5 more years). And as if that were not enough, the painting was sold immediately.
Not only the artist’s pictorial legacy, but also his philosophical legacy can be appreciated in this work. He made his own worldview very clear. The cycle of life is painted in reverse: the return to the primitive, to the purity and innocence of the newborn, of the beginner, is the true path.
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