Monday, March 5, 2007

We shall not go to market today (1892)

One of Gauguin’s favourite devices was the juxtaposition of two contrasting motifs, one from everyday life and the other from the religious, mystic or supernatural world. The purpose of this device was to suggest a character’s inner personality or to depict a recently experienced vision or state of mind. While he was in Tahiti Gauguin sought other ways to achieve the same effect. He was particularly fascinated by Egyptian imagery and studied photographs of the pharaoh’s tombs.

He believed that an additional psychological dimension could be implied without incorporating a second motif if his figures were placed within Egyptian-style friezes. After all Egyptian art was so alien to European culture that it provoked a sense of the supernatural.

“We shall not go to market today” is Gauguin’s attempt to emphasise the indolence of gossiping Tahitian women through the use of Egyptian imagery. Instead of emphasising their instinctively idle natures by inserting a second mystical motif he uses a style of painting which implies some deeper psychological dimension.

However, Gauguin was uncertain whether he had achieved the desired effect. He was not convinced that his figure’s static poses sufficiently expressed the inner reality of their hopeless lethargy. Although he did not divide his canvass between two distinct motifs he felt the need to provide an additional clue by inserting the contrasting figures of two labourers sweating in the background.

Gauguin disliked this painting. He appreciated that a composition which expressed inaction through a markedly static pose might appear unduly stilted. He was also dissatisfied with the poses of the women who appear entirely divorced from their surroundings. Shortly after he completed this picture Gauguin abandoned his attempt to incorporate Egyptian imagery within his art.

Image Source: The Yorck Project

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