Oil on canvas, 29 1/8 x 37 1/2 in. (74 x 95.3 cm)
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art 1973.68.2
(From the museum website)|
"In 1898, Gauguin sent a group of works from Tahiti for exhibition in Paris. The centerpiece was a painting more than twelve-feet long on hemp sacking material with the French inscription, "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
MFA 36.270, © MFA
"One figure that recurs from the larger work is the blue goddess. She is the deity Hina, prominent in an ancient Polynesian creation myth, whom Gauguin represented in sculpture and painting repeatedly. Gauguin's interpretation of her appearance is based upon a variety of sources from Hindu and South Asian art and culture. Gauguin described Hina as an emblem of the "hereafter," alluding to both the cycles of life represented in the work (by the infant and old woman) and his stated intention that the grouping of work would be his final artistic statement. Experiencing numerous maladies, financial problems, and depression, he intended to commit suicide when the work was finished (he died several years later at age 54 from a variety of diseases he had contracted). Despite these seemingly explicit biographical interpretations, this painting and related canvases, like much of Gauguin's work, retain a sense of mystery. "Known symbols would congeal the canvas into a melancholy reality," he wrote, "and the problem indicated would no longer be a poem.""