Saturday, March 3, 2007

Near the Sea (1892)

Even after he had spent several months in Tahiti, Gauguin’s figures still lacked individual characteristics. He seems to have taken the view that one Tahitian girl looked very much like another. In his letters back home he talked of exotic mystical creatures whose very gender is often unclear. He even referred to the “sensuous animal grace of the androgyne”.

Gauguin now believed that human life was an inextricable part of the natural cycle of existence and that a deeper understanding could only be achieved through a complete disregard of gender, class or age. If man was as much a part of nature as the plants and trees it followed that every defining human characteristic was merely a temporary phenomenon of an ever-changing world. If this were the case then human beings did not have a detachable soul capable of surviving in an alternative dimension.

Gauguin explores these theories in “Near the Sea” . He depicts two Tahitian girls in an abstract landscape. The girl in the foreground lowers the towel around her waste as if preparing to submit to some pagan nymph while the second girl raises her hands in a gesture of worship before plunging into the depths.

The figures of the two girls are derived from Gauguin’s personal collection of pagan Celtic symbols. Like most pagan races, the Celts attributed supernatural powers to rivers, forests, mountains and streams. Gauguin uses a rich decorative pattern to incorporate the girls as an integral part of the landscape. The rhythm of the abstract forms is intended to provoke a sub-conscious reaction. Gauguin believed that art should be more than a mere visual experience. The impact of a canvass should inspire all the senses. In the words of Edgar Allen Poe: "A poet should see with his ear".

Image Source: The Yorck Project

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