Art history analysis and description of Paul Gauguin’s painting ” the Queen. (The king’s wife)»
“There is no perfect beauty without some strangeness of proportion”
Edgar Allan PoE
The painting can be called one of the best works of Gauguin’s late work. The canvas was painted during the artist’s second visit to Tahiti (from 1895 until his death in 1903). It was a futile attempt by Gauguin to escape from European civilization at the end of his days, getting as close as possible to the wild primeval nature of Polynesia, whose inhabitants “know only the joyous aspects of life”, a wonderful world where you can live “almost without money”. However, during the second trip, the artist was already completely disappointed in life: the hot sun of the tropics only aggravated eczema, and countless promiscuous relationships led to an incurable disease. In the absence of a stable source of income-paintings that paid for Gauguin, often went to the litter of cats and dogs– even in a hut under palm trees on the South sea coast, the artist felt abandoned and insanely lonely. Paradoxically, it was in his desperate and unhappy years, in increasingly Europeanized Tahiti, that he created the largest and most euphoric pictures of Paradise.
At the end of work on a canvas the artist painted friend Daniel de Monfreid: “Just finished painting one meter and thirty centimeters to one meter, which is considered much better just previous: Nude Queen lies on the green carpet, the maid plucks the fruits, two old men beside a great wood talks about the tree of knowledge; in the depth of the sea coast… the Trees in bloom, the dog’s guarding, on the right two doves cooing”.
The canvas is quite large, which, when combined with a rectangular format, can mislead the viewer at first glance, and he will see a narrative in it. This is not so, the master was important not a specific plot, but the symbolism of everything that is happening. The artist, with all his characteristic originality, painted an old Testament scene, not a real Tahitian life. To convey the biblical story, he borrows artistic techniques, turning to the art of Egypt, India, Iran, Cambodia and carefully studying Tahitian folklore. The artist passed the biblical story through the prism of his own perception.
In the center is a beautiful Tahitian woman. The pose that the naked Queen assumes reminds us of both Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus” and Goya’s “Naked Macha”, as well as Manet’s infamous” Olympia”. She is ” naked, but regally dressed.” Unlike the heroine of Renoir, Tahitian eve is absolutely natural in her nakedness, her beautiful young body without the false shame inherent in civilization, is open to the viewer.
Unlike Anne from the Renoir study, who hides her nakedness and at the same time directly turns her expressive, slightly sad eyes to the viewer, the king’s wife does not look at us – her detached gaze is directed somewhere in the direction that distances the viewer from the inaccessible Queen and the mysterious world of Gauguin. But the forbidden fruit is sweet, and the greater the distance between the real world and the earthly Paradise embodied by the master, the more attractive the Polynesian Eden becomes. The viewer cannot enter this world. The beauty of the Queen is perfect in its wildness and inviolability. In these lines, the image of Gauguin’s black beauty is revealed in the best possible way: “… this Tahitian eve is very gentle, very wise in her naivety. The mystery hidden in the depths of her childish eyes is incomprehensible to me…this is eve after the fall, she can still shamelessly walk naked, she has not yet lost her animal beauty of the first day of creation… this is eve, and her body is still the body of an animal. But the head has already evolved, the thought has developed a subtlety of feelings, love has left an ironic smile on the lips, and let naively, but it looks in its memory for the reasons of times past and present. She looks at you, and there’s a mystery in her eyes.”
What connected the master himself with the Queen created and sung by him? If we are guided by the fact that the painting belongs to the late stage of Gauguin’s work (the artist’s second visit to Tahiti), then most likely it is his second Tahitian wife Paola (Gauguin believed that the best portrait of a naked woman was painted from her). However, based on the descriptions of the appearance from “Noa Noa”, you might think that this is the first Polynesian wife-Tehura… “A young woman with regular features, straight black hair, a slender body, small Breasts, and long well-developed legs, who appears in almost all of his Tahitian paintings, is undoubtedly a Tehura.” The proportions of the figure of a dark-skinned beauty do not quote ancient goddesses. The strong Constitution of the Tahitian woman is far from the European “false ideal of fragility”. If the model of Renoir reminds the viewer of a porcelain statuette, then the shining tanned skin of the Queen makes it look like a bronze statue. It is noteworthy that all the characters on the canvas have different skin colors. The Queen’s glowing bronze tan contrasts with the grayish-blue silhouettes of the maids, who resemble Indian deities in color, and the slightly stooped figures of old men conversing like wooden idols.
The depicted Queen fits very well into the natural landscape. The main vertical of the picture is held by a tree, which became the occasion for discussions between two old men. What are they thinking about? The tree of knowledge of good and evil, from which the Almighty warned the first people in the old Testament story, is the source and at the same time the goal for the human soul. As Gauguin moved further away from civilization, he gradually lost all idea of good and evil: “the Smoothness of the differences between the sexes, which in savages makes men and women as friends as lovers, and thus eliminates even the concept of Vice, why it suddenly caused the old civilized man just vicious ideas, appearing in the dangerous guise of novelty and unknown.” The trunk of the tree, located in the center of the composition, is surrounded by snakes. This is an easily recognizable embodiment of the tempter and destroyer. The essence of original sin and world imperfection consists in the separation of the divine unity. Eve wanted to taste eternity by tasting the fruit of the Tree of knowledge. The separation of the feminine from the masculine deprives the knowledge of life. The combination of male and female on the canvas can be indirectly indicated by the doves cooing on the right. (The fact that these are pigeons is indicated by the artist himself, the large size and bright color of the birds without Gauguin’s instructions can involuntarily make the viewer take them for pheasants.)
Moving the eye deep into the tree trunk, the viewer notices a dark dog of quite impressive size. Is it possible to correctly interpret this image of a guard dog, the shape of whose muzzle evokes thoughts of an Egyptian Anubis, because in the mystical-religious context of the Christian garden of Eden, it certainly would not have found a place… But in the world of people there are such black dogs. Most likely, this is a symbol of loneliness. Gauguin felt that his life had passed, that he had lived it like a stray dog, and that the goal on whose altar everything was laid was still slipping away.
It is not possible to determine the time of day and find light sources on Gauguin’s canvas. The master had a specific attitude to chiaroscuro: “You want to know if I despise shadows? As a means of detecting light, Yes. Look at the Japanese, who are so amazing at drawing, and you will see they have a life in the sun and open air without the shadow. Since shadows are a trick of sight caused by the sun, I am inclined to give them up.” We observe a mixture of seasons, because in tropical latitudes, as in the garden of Eden, you can simultaneously see all the phases of the annual cycle of plant life: on the tree and bushes there is both green and yellow foliage. And this yellow foliage itself radiates light.
The main thing in this picture is the color, it is like a lyrical tapestry, where everything is absolutely harmonious. The artist himself noted: “it seems to me that in color I have never created a single thing with such a strong solemn sonority.” The color of this picture can rather be called cold. The incredible palette of colors used by the artist is quite conventional: at home, Gauguin’s paintings were ridiculed in articles that mentioned “orange rivers” and “red dogs”. Such bright colors help to better convey the exotic atmosphere of the island and the culture of the Tahitians. “Flaming landscapes, bathed in a sparkling sun, finally allowed Gauguin to achieve an intensity of color that was no longer the result of his imagination, but found abundant food in the observation of reality…»
The bright emerald color of the green “carpet” stands out especially. in a slightly lighter version, it is duplicated by Gauguin when marking the crown of trees in the upper left corner. The ripe fruit scattered in front of the reclining Queen is full of yellow, orange, red, and light lilac. Bright red is used to indicate ripe fruit plucked by a maid. The poisonous yellow color with admixtures of green, in which the foliage of the tree of knowledge is painted, does not feel warm. Thus Gauguin wrote of such foliage: “on the purple earth there are long serpentine leaves of metallic yellowness, which seem to me to be the secret sacred writings of the ancient East.” The cold component of green is balanced by dark brown in the designation of the tree trunk and the linear contours of the figures. In General, there are various shades of orange, brown, and gold in the image of vegetation. The coast line is shown in lead-blue with a slight lilac tint, and a little further to the right, the coastal zone turns pink. The sea is shown blue in the vicinity, while in the distance the artist uses a more intense shade of dark blue, thus marking the horizon line. When we look at the edge of the sky, which we can see through the leaves, it seems that it is a diluted tone of sea blue.