{{selectedLanguage.Name}}
Sign In Sign out

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Paul Gauguin

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Paul Gauguin
  • Original Title: D'ou Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous
  • Date: 1897; Punaauia, French Polynesia 
  • Style: Post-Impressionism
  • Period: 2nd Tahiti period
  • Genre: allegorical painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: allegories-and-symbols, Tahiti
  • Dimensions: 139.1 x 374.6 cm
  • Order Oil Painting
    reproduction

This is Paul Gaugin’s most famous painting, and he considered it his masterpiece, and the culmination of his thoughts. In Tahiti, as he was painting his masterpiece, Gaugin declared that he would commit suicide upon its completion. Although this was something he had previously attempted, this was not the case, as the artist died of syphilis in 1903. The painting was meant to be read from right to left, with the three main figures in the painting representing the three questions of the title. The figures are arranged from the beginning stages of life, from young figures with a child, to the middle aged figure in the middle, to the elder figure on the left of the painting. The idol in the background, situated behind the elder figure, represents the “Beyond.”

More ...

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is a painting by French artist Paul Gauguin. Gauguin inscribed the original French title in the upper left corner: D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous. The inscription the artist wrote on his canvas has no question mark, no dash, and all words are capitalized. In the upper right corner he signed and dated the painting: P. Gauguin / 1897. The painting was created in Tahiti, and is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, US.

Gauguin had been a student at the Petit Séminaire de La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin, just outside Orléans, from the age of eleven to the age of sixteen. His subjects there included a class in Catholic liturgy; the teacher for this class was the Bishop of Orléans, Félix-Antoine-Philibert Dupanloup. Dupanloup had devised his own catechism to be lodged in the minds of the young schoolboys, and to lead them towards proper spiritual reflections on the nature of life. The three fundamental questions in this catechism were: "Where does humanity come from?" "Where is it going to?", "How does humanity proceed?". Although in later life Gauguin was vociferously anticlerical, these questions from Dupanloup's catechism obviously had lodged in his mind, and "where?" became the key question that Gauguin asked in his art.

Looking for a society more simple and elemental than that of his native France, Gauguin left for Tahiti in 1891. In addition to several other paintings that express his highly individualistic mythology, he completed this painting in 1897 or 1898. Gauguin considered it a masterpiece and the grand culmination of his thought. He was in despair when he undertook the painting, mourning the tragic death of his favourite daughter earlier in the year and oppressed by debts, and had planned to kill himself on finishing it. He subsequently made an unsuccessful attempt with an overdose of arsenic. Thomson thinks it quite possible that he only painted in the inscription while recovering from the attempt.

Gauguin indicated that the painting should be read from right to left, with the three major figure groups illustrating the questions posed in the title. The three women with a child represent the beginning of life; the middle group symbolizes the daily existence of young adulthood; and in the final group, according to the artist, "an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts"; at her feet, "a strange white bird...represents the futility of words." The blue idol in the background apparently represents what Gauguin described as "the Beyond." Of its entirety he said, "I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all my preceding ones, but that I shall never do anything better—or even like it."

The painting is an accentuation of Gauguin's trailblazing post-impressionistic style; his art stressed the vivid use of colors and thick brushstrokes, tenets of the impressionists (though the Impressionists focused on quick brushstrokes), while it aimed to convey an emotional or expressionistic strength. It emerged in conjunction with other avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, including cubism and fauvism.

This is a part of the Wikipedia article used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). The full text of the article is here →


More ...
Advertisement