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Paul Gauguin - The meal

by Lucie Klysch

Paul Gauguin is considered the most exotic of all French painters of Classical Modernism. Constantly driven by the search for the original primitive life, he traveled to Tahiti in 1891. He dedicated his painting to the ways of life of the Polynesian society. This is also the case in this painting, also known as "The Bananas". But the painting does not have much to do with a conventional representation of reality. It was not his intention to paint things as they appear to the eye. Much more he wanted to communicate his deepest feelings through the way he uses shapes and colors.

In the foreground we see a bunch of red bananas, lemons, a knife, an opened guava, a bowl filled with a milky liquid and two other vessels. What is fascinating about this painting is the way Gauguin uses color, especially in relation to the meal being presented. It is not meant to appear pleasing, but to evoke a sensual, emotional dimension. A closer look reveals that the large blue shadows are not blue at all, but are made up of many different colors. The sculptural effect in the foreground is created on the one hand by the shadows, but also by the knife, which is arranged at an angle to the other objects.

In the background, three children are sitting behind a table. In the right outer corner of the picture, an enigmatic dark figure, framed by a kind of window, observes the scene. The figures are characterized by distinct outlines with large patches of color within the outlines. All this makes for a decidedly two-dimensional effect in the background of the painting. It is noticeable that the three children are in shadow and light and color are on the fruits. Thus, the impression is created that they are pushing the children into the background.

It is questionable why the children are sitting at a table; a piece of furniture that was not present at all in Tahitian homes. In addition, the untypical white tablecloth is found. Most likely, this is a westernized view. The subject has less to do with a classical Tahitian meal than with a ritual that Gauguin observed or rather thought up.

It is also unclear why the two boys are to the right and left of a girl who has strongly reddened pupils. Various interpretations have pointed to the phallic shape of the bananas, and also to the open fruit, possibly suggesting the female gender. The fact that this girl is sitting here framed by two boys at the table has also been interpreted as a representation of her fertile sexual awakening.

The painting is a mixture of still life and portrait and presents Gauguin's typical way of working. It is a search for simplified forms and the right colors. Gauguin is a painter of fantasy, of feeling, his play with space and color sends the viewer on a journey to faraway places.

Paul Gauguin - The meal

Oil on canvas, 1891, 73 x 92 cm, Musée d'Orsay in Paris


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