Human misery (1889; France) by Paul Gauguin

Human misery - Paul Gauguin - 1889; France

Artwork Information

TitleHuman misery
ArtistPaul Gauguin
Date1889; France
Art MovementCloisonnism

About Human misery

“Human Misery,” a work by Paul Gauguin completed in 1889 in France, is a testament to the artist’s engagement with the cloisonnist style, a branch of post-Impressionism. The genre painting, executed in watercolor on paper, reveals Gauguin’s exploration of human emotion and the human condition through the lens of this distinct movement.

The artwork presents a poignant scene in which the central figure, a woman, appears to be in a state of distress or contemplation, her hands raised to her face in a gesture that can be interpreted as an embodiment of misery or deep thought. The strong outlines and bold colors typical of Cloisonnism are evident, contrasting sharply with the soft watercolor washes that infuse the piece with a sense of atmosphere and emotional resonance.

In the background, two additional figures can be observed. The figure to the left, a man, directs his gaze towards the central woman, his profile sharply outlined, while the figure to the right seems to be a woman seated on a branch, her attention directed elsewhere. Both of these figures appear somewhat disconnected from the central subject’s emotional state. Predominantly yellow and brown tones dominate the palette, reinforcing the intense, almost claustrophobic concentration on the central figure’s experience.

The flattened space, the strong use of line to contour the figures, and the reduced, harmonious color palette serve to create a sense of simplicity and directness, allowing the viewer to engage with the central emotional thrust of the work without distraction. Gauguin’s distinctive approach to color and form aids in conveying the inward psychological reality of the subjects in “Human Misery,” making it a powerful exemplar of the cloisonnist methodology and Gauguin’s wider oeuvre.

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