The Great Buddha (1899; Punaauia, French Polynesia) by Paul Gauguin

The Great Buddha - Paul Gauguin - 1899; Punaauia, French Polynesia

Artwork Information

TitleThe Great Buddha
ArtistPaul Gauguin
Date1899; Punaauia, French Polynesia
Dimensions134 x 95 cm
Art MovementPost-Impressionism
Current LocationPushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia

About The Great Buddha

The artwork titled “The Great Buddha,” created by the artist Paul Gauguin in 1899 during his time in Punaauia, French Polynesia, is an oil on canvas adherent to the Post-Impressionism movement. The piece has physical dimensions of 134 by 95 centimeters and falls under the genre painting category. It currently resides in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, Russia.

Upon examination of the artwork, one can observe a scene imbued with a rich, earthy palette, depicting a serene interior environment that is distinctly infused with cultural elements. The central focus of the composition is a large, stoic statue of what the title suggests is a Buddha, however, it actually depicts a Tahitian idol, carved with powerful lines and enveloping presence. This figure dominates the upper section of the artwork, while below, various human forms and a dog occupy the space around it.

The immediate foreground prominently features two seated Tahitian women, painted in a flat yet expressively contoured manner, demonstrating Gauguin’s distinctive stylistic approach to form and color. One of the women appears contemplative, her gaze directed away from the viewer, contributing to a sense of introspective stillness. To the right, another figure stands with her back turned, perhaps engaging in a daily ritual or task.

Ethereal green and yellow hues set a somber and mystical atmosphere, allowing small splashes of warm color to draw the eye. Subtle details, such as a glimpse of the exterior through a window and the faint outlines of other figures within the space, add depth and narrative complexity to the artwork.

Gauguin’s work conveys a poignant exploration of spirituality, culture, and the human experience, utilizing a visual language that departs from naturalism and integrates symbolism to express the ineffable qualities of life in the Pacific Islands.

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