D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
by Paul Gauguin
Image approx. 12.5″ x 17″ each
Paper size approx. 17″ x 18” each
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Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist painter. His bold experimentation with coloring led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential exponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.
Gauguin—after vowing that he would commit suicide following this painting’s completion, something he had previously attempted—indicated that the painting should be read from right to left, with the three major figure groups illustrating the questions posed in the title. The three women with a child represent the beginning of life; the middle group symbolizes the daily existence of young adulthood; and in the final group, according to the artist, “an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts;” at her feet, “a strange white bird…represents the futility of words.” The blue idol in the background apparently represents what Gauguin described as “the Beyond.” Of its entirety he said, “I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all my preceding ones, but that I shall never do anything better—or even like it.”
The painting is an accentuation of Gauguin’s trailblazing postimpressionistic style; his art stressed the vivid use of colors and thick brushstrokes, tenets of the impressionists, while it aimed to convey an emotional or expressionistic strength. It emerged in conjunction with other avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, including cubism and fauvism.