(b. 1848, Paris, d. 1903, Atuona, Hiva Oa, French Polynesia)

The Yellow Christ

Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

In October 1889, Gauguin settled in Marie Henry's inn at Le Pouldu, an isolated village in Brittany. One after the other, he produced such works as The Yellow Christ, The Green Christ or The Calvary, La Belle Angèle. These works showed that he was in full possession of his art, with an equally masterful control of vision, plastic form, and technique.

In Yellow Christ, Gauguin returned to religious subject matter for the first time since painting The Vision a year previously. In fact, the two works have a number of similarities. Both are essentially synthetic, distilling the essence of the subject in order to render it as forcibly as possible, and relying on the use of colour to symbolic ends. They share the same theme; of the naivety of the allegedly simple Breton peasants, who by their faith transform what was simply a statue of Christ into a living embodiment of his suffering. In fact, the original for the statue was borrowed from a seventeenth-century polychrome crucifix that Gauguin had copied in a church at Trémalo, near Pont-Aven. The use of this kind of folk art, part of his repertoire of 'primitive' imagery, was used in the slightly later Green Christ. He painted this cross also in the background of his self-portrait.

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