Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Yellow Christ (1889)

Gauguin prolonged his stay with the Schuffeneckers for several months during which he exhibited with a group of twenty artists known as “Les Vingt”. However, his paintings did not win wider critical acclaim. Although he could easily tolerate jibes from malicious journalists, he was deeply hurt by criticism from Camille Pissarro whose pointillist style had influenced his own artistic development.

Pisarro believed that art should be at the vanguard of civilisation, propagating knowledge and rational thought. He considered that Gauguin’s primitivism was backward, mystical and superstitious. Worse of all he accused Gauguin of being a fake without any true artistic vocation. To him Gauguin was merely attempting to carve out a profitable niche by recycling tired religious themes in a sensationalist manner.

Pissarro was particularly critical of Yellow Christ” (1889) in which Gauguin creates a vision of his own personal crucifixion witnessed by the Breton peasant women who kneel at his feet. The harsh glare of the unnaturally yellow tones creates a nightmarish atmosphere, but Gauguin appears totally relaxed as he smugly hangs on the cross.

Gauguin’s huge ego is apparent in “Yellow Christ”. He not only compares himself to Christ but also implies that he too deserves to be worshiped. He compares his status as an artist with the creative force of a deity and asserts that he is being maliciously persecuted by lesser beings. Such bold statements were an open invitation to ridicule.

In “Yellow Christ” Gauguin, regarded by many as a crafty fake, claims the status of a misunderstood genius.

Image source: The Yorck Project

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