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

Grape Harvest at Arles (Human Anguish)

Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm
Ordrupgaardsamlingen, Ordrupgaard

Originally, the work was entitled Grape Harvest at Arles, but Gauguin later renamed it Human Anguish, lest its symbolic connotations be overlooked. The pose of the crouching female figure in the foreground was a direct quotation from a Peruvian mummy that Gauguin had seen in the ethnographic museum in Paris, and which was to recur in later works, most notably in Where Do We Come From. Her pose evokes grief and guilt, perhaps sexual guilt, ironically referred to in the abundance of the harvest which surrounds her. Indeed, the backdrop of the harvest is treated like water, with the suggestion of frothy waves in the foreground, which for Gauguin represented female sexual abandonment. The picture may be meant to evoke a post-seduction scene, a theme which Gauguin explored to its fullest in The Loss of Virginity.

That the scene, painted at the beginning of November 1888, was executed from the imagination and not from life is evident from the fact that the scene is peopled with Breton peasant women whom Gauguin could not have seen for several months.

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