Breton Peasant Woman

A few montns before this canvas was painted, Gauguin wrote to his wife: "You must remember that there are two natures within me: the Indian, and the sensitive. The sensitive has disappeared, which allows the Indian to go straight forward, without wavering." But Gauguin, whether in painting or in personal relations, could not so easily "close his tender heart." As this picture bears witness, he was attracted by what seemed to him the simple poetry of peasant life, the unaffected natures and unquestioning relationships (to each other and to their fields and farms) of the people around him in Brittany. The picturesque "character did not escape him, but he subordinated it to a basic feeling of simplicity.

Here he has painted a farm scene as a flat decorative pattern. The Impressionist preoccupation with light which softens form, and with color in its infinite and subtle variations (rendered by broken color and separate brush strokes) suffuses the whole canvas. But the space is flat and there is no horizon. The figures fill the eye from top to bottom of the canvas, the outlines of their arms, white coifs, and incisive profiles make a bold flow of pattern against the rest. Heads have been turned to avoid foreshortening, bodies arranged to emphasize the contours of the spaces between them. The gestures of the arms, the bent heads of the two women on the right recall similar poses employed by Courbet. Perhaps Gauguin was inspired to them by the painter of Ornans. They are in any case similarly intended to suggest the poetry of feeling, akin to a state of grace, found among simple souls and village folk.

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