If one were to set Paul Gauguin’s paintings deriving from his first Tahitian Period side by side, it would be possible to track the artist’s growing admiration to various aspects of life in his new home. As it is wont to happen, the natural beauty caused the first impact on the artist, and through the remainder of his artistic career he would often return to the subject matter, producing a series of homonymous paintings, which are now spread around some of the greatest modern art museums.
Painted in 1891, within the first year of his arrival to Tahiti, this oil on canvas, which is now in possession of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, showcases the first impact of the Polynesian islands on Gauguin’s artistic career. In it, he portrays his initial awe at the lush environment that received him, with bright colors and the artist’s characteristic Post-Impressionist style, creating a plain and simplistic, yet heavily emotional snapshot of what it was like for the 19th century European to arrive at those tropical islands.
Gauguin’s already growing disenchantment heightened such impact with the European art scene, and the purity, natural and human, found by the artist in the islands was the definitive blow to his desire to ever return to France. He had felt that the art scene in Europe had become overly superficial, artificial and, as a whole, morally bankrupt. In many of his letters and texts, he would talk about how he felt that art had become too concerned with money and fame, forgetting about the real objectives of making art, which was an expression and casting a deeper look into the nature of the world and the self.
So, in contrast with how Gauguin felt about the European art scene and aesthetic sensibilities, he painted this landscape with its sinuous lines and bold, intense colors to represent the blissful serenity afforded by the environment that surrounded him. He depicts an untroubled landscape, its purity immune to the influence of civilization. The only human presence in the painting is itself adapted to the environment, in the form of the man carrying bundles of fruit along with a track that barely distinguishes itself from the field which it cuts through. In a way, Gauguin depicts humanity as small in the environment as he felt when faced with the grandeur and mystery he found in Tahiti.
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