Paul GAUGUIN – When will you Marry? (1892)

When will you marry

Sold at Sotheby’s auction house in 2015 for around $300 million USD, Gauguin’s work “When Will You Marry?” made in 1892, to a Qatari buyer made record as one of the most expensive paintings sold.

Painted during the time Gauguin was living in Tahiti, the artwork When will you marry? represents two native Tahitian women as the central figures of the artwork. The two Tahitian women are situated within a terrestrial idyllic paradise, devoid of any sight of European civilization.

The young woman dressed in traditional Tahitian garments, wears a flower to signal that she is available for marriage. The traditional bright Tahitian garments of the young woman in the foreground contrast the motherly woman sitting behind her in traditional Western clothing, thus alluding to the influence of French Colonization in the lives of the Tahitian natives.

Gauguin: When will you marry? detail of the painting

The naïve style of the outlines and vibrancy of Gauguin’s color application evidence his ideas of Synthetism and primitive art, where color, the subject, and other elements are means through which the invisible, the idea primes above all else. The multiple forms and deep spaces of this complex composition are tied together by its overall warm color tonalities. It was this element – color – that the Gauguin often referred to as “a mysterious language, a language of the dream.”

Although Gauguin was disappointed to find that French colonization destroyed his fantasy of living in an entirely non-industrialized society, he still allowed himself to reimagine the idyllic, native Tahitian paradise dwelling in his dreams.

Paul Gauguin was unquestionably the most influential artist associated with the 19th century Symbolist movement.

Although Gauguin avoided the heavy literary content and traditional style like other Symbolist artists, he also rejected the optical naturalism of the Impressionists, while at the same time preserving their use of color in works of art. Throughout Gauguin’s career, he advised other artists to not “copy nature too much. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it, but think more of creating than the actual result.”

Gauguin’s ideas on Synthetism emerged from the thought of using color arbitrarily rather than to merely describe the object. Through his ideas of finding a synthesis between the subject and color, Gauguin sought to find the ideal way of depicting, that which is invisible, subjective as well as deep meanings and emotion.

Throughout his life, Gauguin was motivated to free himself from the corrupting sophistication of modern industrial life and was attracted to so-called “primitive art”, or art belonging to non-industrialized societies. For Gauguin, Primitivism was the means through which he could relieve himself from the burden of western culture, industrialization, and urbanization. For this reason, Gauguin’s works are characterized by a raw and authentic immediacy that is absent from academic art.

With time, Gauguin became an iconic figure of the artistic romantic genius, a personification of the artist as a rebel against society. After years of wandering as a marine merchant, then in the French Navy, Gauguin settled down to the successful life of a stockbroker, married to a Danish woman and a father of five children.

Gauguin began painting first as a hobby and then became progressively serious about art, exhibiting his works in the Salon of 1876 and in four Impressionist exhibitions from 1879 to 1882. He lost his job, historians believe because of a stock market crash in 1886, and after several years of family conflict and attempts to restart his life, he broke ties with his family, and became involved with the Impressionist.

Gauguin spent the early years of his childhood in Peru, and he appears almost always to have had nostalgia for seemingly exotic places. From 1886 to 1887 he spent time between Paris, the Breton villages of Pont-Aven and Le Poildu. During this time, he also spent seven months in Panama and Martinique. In 1888 he had a tempestuous but productive visit with Van Gogh in Arles.

Fall in Pont-Aven. Paul Gauguin, 1888

Although they were good friends, their personalities clashed against one another: while van Gogh was filled with enthusiasm for his fellow artists and at times, an overwhelming, love for humanity; Gauguin was an iconoclast, cynical, indifferent and at times brutal to others.

In 1891, Gauguin sailed to Tahiti where he was very disappointed to discover how extensively Western missionaries and colonials had invaded upon the life of the Tahitian natives. The capital, Papeete, was filled with French government officials, and Tahitian women often covered themselves with ankle-length missionary dresses.

The three Tahitians. Paul Gauguin, 1896

Gauguin returned to France for two years in 1893 before settling in the South Seas for good. His final trip, in the wake of years of illness and suffering, was to the island of Hiva-Oa in the Marquesas Islands, where he died in 1903 to a morphine overdose.

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