Gauguin Where Do We Come From What Are We Where Are We Going
-Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
-Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
-Oil on Canvas, 5 feet by 12 feet
-Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?, is the self-acclaimed masterpiece of Paul Gauguins’ career. It represents the culmination of his ideas and beliefs that he acquired throughout his life as a painter. Many visual characteristics of the painting, such as the color, line, and light are unrealistic in nature, but serve to emphasize the tropical surroundings in which Gauguin loved to paint. Although the organization of the characters in this lush jungle clearing seem random, Gauguin intended this work to be “read” from right to left as if it was a story book describing the evolution of man.
The use of unique color in Where do we come from? is the most visible attribute of the painting. The background is comprised of intersecting layers of shades of blue and green, which act as a backdrop for the more intense colors in the foreground. The ground plane is made up of a mixture of dirt and rock, which disappears in an area of muddled color. Due to the drastic change in color between the surroundings and the characters, it is as if they have been superimposed onto the painting. Each character is unique in composition, but similar in tone. Gauguin uses an unrealistic mix of peach and earthy brown to represent skin. In some places an orange glow reflects off of the bodies, which is heavily accentuated on the central figure. On other figures, the skin tone is dull and almost blends into the ground color. Dark brown hair color is standard throughout the entire work as well as the use of white loin clothes and robes.
These color schemes hold true for most of the painting, but some exceptions are notable. At each end of the work the outermost character is considerably darker in skin tone than the others. It seems as if they are being shunned from the rest of the crowd because of their body language. The woman on the far right has her back to us as if she is trying to see what the others are doing, and the woman on the far left is holding her head in her hands as if she is upset about something. Another exception to the common coloring themes is the woman to the right of the idol in the distance. Unlike all of the other characters, who are wearing minimal white clothing, she is wearing a black garment that covers most of her body. The idol also represents a change in color tones from the rest of the painting. It has been painted in a light blue, similar to the coloring of background elements. According to Gauguin, this figure represents “the beyond,” which is emphasized by its close relationship in color to nature. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Although the use of line and light is not as defined as the color scheme, they still play an important role in the overall organization of the painting. Gauguin uses...