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

The Green Christ or The Calvary

Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

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.

Toward the end of his stay in Brittany, in 1889, the ancient Breton calvaries gave a soul to Gauguin's emerging style and to a form which would have drifted otherwise toward Art Nouveau. In the Green Christ or The Calvary, the plastic form and arrangement, which was already emerging from Naturalism, is transformed; it is struck by a religious solemnity, a perception of an unknown god.

Like the statue in the Yellow Christ, the Green Christ had an identifiable source in a mossy stone calvary that Gauguin had seen at Nizon near Pont-Aven. He has again treated the impact of religious faith on the Breton woman, who crouches in the foreground in front of the deposition, a graphic blending of the real and the illusory that had already been explored in both The Vision and the Yellow Christ. Again, the counterpoise of the quotidien is suggested by expressive, apparently uninterested background figures, here a seaweed gatherer returning from the beach.

The picture may be seen as a later event in Christ's Passion - the bright colours of the Yellow Christ have given way to sombre tones, as his dead body is lifted down from the cross. Again, the face is a thinly-disguised self-portrait, another in the line of works in which Gauguin has dealt with the theme of martyrdom, likening his suffering to that of Christ.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.