After pledging to commit suicide after this painting’s completion, Paul Gauguin announced the painting should be viewed from right to left with the three major figure groups illustrating the questions posed in the title: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? The three women sitting next to a child represents the beginning of life; the middle group symbolizes the daily existence of young adulthood; and in the final group, according to the artist, “an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts”; at her feet, “a strange white bird…represents the futility of words.” The blue idol in the background apparently represents what Gauguin described as “the Beyond.” Of its entirety he said, “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 - Where Do We Come From? Who Are We? Where Are We Going?
1897, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA
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