In this self-portrait Paul Gauguin created an abstract image of himself and his art using large patches of bold colors and heavy black lines. How do the colors, lines, and shapes in this painting express the character of Gauguin? How might the artist want to be remembered? Like many of the Post-Impressionist artists, Gauguin was interested in painting how he felt rather than what he saw.
Gauguin began painting in Europe in the late 1800s, around the time that the automobile, airplane, camera, and telephone were invented. As you can imagine, these inventions had a dramatic impact on daily life. Some people enjoyed the comfort and efficiency that modernity brought while others resented the new, fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle. Unlike the Impressionist artists before him, Gauguin was a member of a group of painters and poets who sought to escape the stress of the modernizing world. Many Impressionist painters created scenes of modernity and city life using large brushstrokes and textured surfaces. Gauguin too painted with large brushstrokes and patches of color but instead of depicting European modernity, Gauguin painted serene images of the pre-industrial world.
In order to find appropriate subject matter Gauguin traveled to the quaint countryside of Brittany, France, and later to the island of Tahiti. In Brittany and Tahiti Gauguin was sheltered from the modern world. In the background of this self-portrait are images of art created by Gauguin during his time abroad. Gauguin painted The Yellow Christ in the French countryside and created woodcarvings in Tahiti. Gauguin included these pieces of art in his self-portrait in order to symbolize the importance of his experiences abroad. The art that Gauguin and his peers created is now referred to as Symbolist art. This name came from the artists’ desire to create art that symbolizes thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In the late 1800s, the idea of painting to convey emotion rather than physical reality was truly revolutionary.