Born on June 7, 1848, in Paris, France, Paul Gauguin was an eminent French painter of the ‘Post-Impressionist’ period. After completion of his compulsory term in the military service, Paul went on to become a successful stockbroker in 1871. He kept his childhood interest in arts alive by visiting galleries and purchasing the works of upcoming artists. Paul’s part-time hobby soon turned into a full time interest when he moved to Paris in 1885, leaving behind his family at Denmark. Among several of his creative splendors, his “Where do We Come From? What are we? Where are we Going?” is an exceptional work.
Paul titled the painting on its upper right corner, in French as “D’où venons-nous? / Qui sommes-nous? / Où allons-nous?” “Where Do We Come From? What are we? Where are We Going?” as suggested by the artist, should be read from right to left in three groups. The three questions propounded as the title of this masterpiece are illustrated remarkably in these three groups, featuring Tahitian figures. The first question, “Where do We Come From?” illustrated in the right most group with three women and a child, signifies the onset of life. The second question, “What are we?” attractively brought out by a young strong man, wearing a plain loincloth, plucking an apple signifies our today’s existence & experiences. The third and last question, “Where are we going?” is depicted in the left most group reflecting the autumn of life. As per the artist, “an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts.” Near her feet, “a strange white bird…represents the futility of words.” The eye-catching idol in blue in the background is portrayed as “the Beyond.”
This 139.1 cm × 374.6 cm handmade oil on canvas is an exemplary of Gauguin’s ‘Post-Impressionistic’ style. “Where Do We Come From? What are we? Where are We Going?” is a result of thick & strong brushstrokes, the ‘Impressionist’ use of dramatic colors, along with the traces of ‘Cubist’ and ‘Fauvist’ influence. “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” is exhibited at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA, since April 16, 1936.
In an attempt to create his most famous painting, “Where Do We come from? What are we? Where are We Going?” Gauguin searched for an unconventional and natural location and finally settled for Punaauia, Tahiti, in 1897. He commenced his work the same year and reached a point of highest development, on its completion in 1898. Gauguin once commented on this magnum opus, “I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all my preceding ones, but that I shall never do anything better-or even like it.” Paul Gauguin died on May 8, 1903, due to Syphilis and is buried in Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), Atuona, Hiva ‘Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.