Paul Gauguin lived in the small village of Pont-Aven in Brittany during the summer of 1886. He was broke at the time and Brittany was a cheap place to live.
Shortly before moving from Paris to Brittany he sent his son, Clovis, then seven, to Coppenhagen to live with his estranged Danish wife. Clovis had just survived an attack of smallpox and Gauguin, formerly a prosperous stockbroker, was earning a pittance posting bills.
Gauguin may have been going through a rough patch but he was an extremely strong personality. Indeed, he quickly established himself as the leader of the hundred or so other artists who had also been attracted to Pont Aven by the cheap living and the beautiful Breton landscape.
Paul Gauguin: Breton Girls Dancing National Gallery of Art, Washington
In "Breton Girls Dancing", Gauguin develops his symbolic art in a rustic setting. He has a keen eye for local traditions and costumes. However, unlike the impressionists he has little interest in realism.
The dance has a dreamlike quality and the figures appear frozen and static. The juxtaposition of flat blocks of contrasting colour emphasised by use of straight lines creates a stark simplicity. Gauguin sees himself as a sophisticated observer of a primitive peasant ritual.
Image Source: The Yorck Project