In 1891, French artist Paul Gauguin left his banking career to pursue art. Seeking a life “in ecstasy, in peace and for art,” he sailed from France to the South Seas. While living on the island of Tahiti, he created his painted manifesto entitled “Where Are We Going?” in 1897. This masterpiece represented Gauguin’s ultimate artistic achievement, which he believed would surpass all his preceding works.
The painting signifies a time of personal crisis for Gauguin when he was struggling with illness and mounting debt. He moved to Tahiti hoping for a more basic and natural society that would inspire him artistically, but his mental health quickly deteriorated. Gauguin was profoundly troubled by the impact that Western culture was having upon Tahitian society. While attempting to capture the essence of Polynesian life in his artworks, he unknowingly contributed to the erosion of their protective isolation.
Gauguin’s revolutionary artistic style blends elements from post-impressionism with traditional Tahitian symbolism and mysticism. In this artwork, three generations’ lives are depicted- an infant contemplating birth on the right corner juxtaposes a group of women moving towards an older woman who seems most likely to be their spiritual leader or guide near the center-right corner- and finally ending on Depression & Death at far-left where we find an old lady praying next to three figures huddled together in sorrow observing her – representing Gauguin’s preoccupation with religious themes throughout his work. The vivid colors create a sense of dreaming or hallucination-like whimsy typical within some sections of symbolism paintings rather than reality—emphasizing how contemplative thought combined with simplicity can produce wide variance emotions depicting one’s journey through life’s subjects through colors even if it meant resorting back into innocence & naivete naïve/ignorance aspects alongside experience – all bridged by wisdom symbolized in various ways throughout ‘Where Are We Going?’.