Abstract Canvas Prints No 54 : It’s a Wonderful Life
The American film director Frank Capra referenced this painting in his movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
James Stewart plays George Bailey, a depressed, self-loathing businessman, who has come to the conclusion that he would be worth more to his wife and children if he were dead.
He is on the verge of committing suicide, standing over a high bridge on a freezing winter’s night, staring into the angry river below, when he sees another man fall into the swirling water.
Instincts take over: the generous-spirited businessman forgets his own troubles and dives into the ice-cold river to save the life of another man, who, unbeknownst to George, is his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers).
Cut to the next scene, in which George and Clarence are in a small wooden shack drying off. A washing-line cuts horizontally across the screen. Sitting down, below the line, is George struggling with all his earthly worries, while standing with his head above the line is the celestial presence of Clarence, dispensing wisdom from an imagined world.
The dreaminess of Gauguin’s Vision would prefigure Surrealism.
The modest nature of the Breton women’s life is a precursor to the ‘Primitivism’ of Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings, which inspired Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti and Henri Rousseau.
And the large flat areas of pure colour with all shadow eliminated – an idea Gauguin had appropriated, like many before him, from Japanese prints – would prefigure the expressive, symbolic ideas of Abstract Expressionism.
Vision After the Sermon contributed to Gauguin moving from being an amateur ‘Sunday’ painter into becoming a leader of the avant-garde.
The art dealer Theo van Gogh had already shown an interest in his brother’s friend; now he was convinced.
He bought some of Gauguin’s existing paintings and committed to buying more in the future.
By this time Gauguin was being seen within the broader Symbolist movement, which had started as a largely literary affair.
The Symbolist writers were taken with Gauguin’s diagonal branch, seeing it as an example in visual art of the allegorical motif.
Instead of turning an object (the tree branch) into a subject (by painting it), he had taken something subjective (his idea) and turned it into the object (tree branch).
Marvellous. Unless, of course, you happened to be from the ‘tell it like it is’ school of Impressionism.