Barbarian poems (1896; French Polynesia) by Paul Gauguin

Barbarian poems - Paul Gauguin - 1896; French Polynesia

Artwork Information

TitleBarbarian poems
ArtistPaul Gauguin
Date1896; French Polynesia
Dimensions63 x 47 cm
Art MovementCloisonnism
Current LocationFogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums), Cambridge, MA, US

About Barbarian poems

The artwork titled “Barbarian poems” was crafted by the artist Paul Gauguin in 1896 during his time in French Polynesia. This piece is an oil painting on canvas and exemplifies the aesthetic principles of Cloisonnism, an art movement noted for bold and flat forms separated by dark contours. The painting measures 63 by 47 centimeters and falls within the portrait genre. At present, it is housed at the Fogg Museum, part of the Harvard Art Museums, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

In this profound work, Gauguin captures the essence of a Polynesian woman’s portrait beset against an intense, solidly hued backdrop that suggests an atmospheric depth. The subject is presented with a bare torso, her gaze averted in a contemplative state, creating a serene yet distant expression that invites introspection. The artist employs flat areas of color and stark outlines that are characteristic of Cloisonnism, thus reinforcing the artwork’s stylistic identity. Adjacent to the figure sits a small, dark-colored sculpture, presumably of Polynesian origin, which further contextualizes the cultural backdrop that influenced Gauguin’s artistic practice. The juxtaposition of the woman and the sculpture reflects Gauguin’s interest in the themes of exoticism and the noble savage, a notion romanticizing the purity of indigenous peoples before the corruption of Western civilization. The artwork’s enigmatic aura is enhanced by its rich palette and the harmonious interplay of color and form, making it an emblematic piece of Gauguin’s oeuvre and the wider post-Impressionist movement.

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