The life of Paul Gauguin is one of the richest and most mythic in the history of Western art. Abandoning a career in banking, a family, and his homeland, in the last decade of the nineteenth century he sailed from France to the South Seas to seek a life “in ecstasy, in peace, and for art.” During his years in Tahiti, although beset by sometimes appalling poverty, illness, and despair, Gauguin brought forth a wealth of astonishing and deeply felt paintings, culminating in this monumental meditation on what he called the “ever-present riddle” of human existence posed in the work’s title.
This compact introduction to Gauguin’s masterpiece explores its relation to European models as well as to the artist’s own companion pieces, emphasizing not only that the painting responded to current French art but also that its creator always intended it to find its ultimate audience in Paris. It also provides an illuminating entry into the work’s formal composition and complex symbolism, drawing on Gauguin’s writings to help illuminate the philosophical and personal struggles that led to the creation of this endlessly mysterious, profoundly beautiful work.
About MFA Spotlight:
Each volume in the MFA Spotlight series illuminates a significant work in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s collection, offering a brief and engaging introduction to its creation and history.