Abstract Canvas Prints No 52 : God’s Messenger
He was braver still when, in the late 1880s, he decided to challenge the Impressionists’ strict adherence to naturalism, calling it an ‘abominable error’.
No wonder Monet and Renoir were unimpressed by his new ‘everyday’ paintings when they saw them.
At first glance the two Impressionists might have thought the precocious Gauguin had followed their rules of choosing ordinary subjects and painting with spontaneous brushstrokes.
But hang on a minute! Does nature really serve up such vivid oranges, or greens or blues? She does not. ‘Mon dieu!’ Monet cried. ‘This fellow is having a go at us.’ And he was.
In the rational eyes of Monet and Renoir nature did not produce such colours, but she did in Gauguin’s.
Talking to another artist while standing in the Bois d’Amour in Brittany, Gauguin said, ‘How do you see this tree … is it really green?
Use green then, the most beautiful green on your palette.
And the shadow, rather blue?
Don’t be afraid to paint it as blue as possible.’
If his bright colours pointed to a departure from Impressionism, his subject matter confirmed that Gauguin had left the nest.
His pictures were a Disney-distance from accurate representation, laden as they were with hidden meaning and symbolism.
Vincent van Gogh, his partner in chromatics, had used heightened colour to express himself: Gauguin cranked up his painterly colour dial in the service of storytelling.
Vision After the Sermon, or Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1888) is an early example of Gauguin in his Post-Impressionist period.
Unlike the modern-life paintings of Monet et al., this work by Gauguin is only partially set in the real world.
The narrative basis for the work is a group of rural Breton women who are experiencing a holy vision shortly after hearing a sermon in church – the biblical tale of Jacob fighting an angel.
The women stand in the foreground with their backs to the viewer, watching Jacob wrestle with God’s messenger.
They are realistically shown dressed in the ceremonial white headdresses and traditional black tunics of Breton peasants; nothing controversial about that.
But there is when you realize that Gauguin has used such a sober palette in order to have some fun with the rest of the picture …