Paris, France, 1848-Atuona, Islas Marquesas, 1903
Oil on canvas, 74 x 92 cm
Contributed by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia in 1920
Washerwomen in Arles was painted in that French town, where Gauguin settled late in 1888 summoned by Vincent van Gogh, who hoped to found a community of artists there. The work captures the painter’s concern in emphasising expressiveness over and above formalism, which entailed his final break with Impressionism. This principle, for which Gauguin coined the term Syntheticism, was characterised by non-mimetic representations of nature, the rejection of the third dimension taken from Japanese prints and the separation of colour in broad contrasted planes by means of dark lines. Exceptional features of the work are the abstract background, the impression of movement, the photographic framing that silhouettes certain elements, the flat shapes with dark contours and the areas of pure colour. The distortion and rigidity of the figures betray the influence of the rough stone statuary in Breton churches. In the last few decades of the nineteenth century Gauguin, who began to paint late in life, led the transformation of Impressionist principles into more subjective forms of expression. His artistic language was determined by his trips to Pont-Aven and Arles, not to mention the South Seas. The brightness of the colours and the light in Polynesia and the close ties between the indigenous society and nature caused a great impression on the painter; consequently, the exotic locations and primitive beliefs of Brittany and Tahiti, alongside the pictorial expressiveness of his friend Van Gogh became the references that helped materialise his ideas, which were also rendered in prints, ceramics and, in his last years on the island of Hiva-Oa, in sculpture. [J.N.G.]
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