Fatata Te Miti

During his first Tahman Sojourn Gauguin's style grew more graceful. Alone, no longer the master surrounded by disciples, less immediately conscious of his revolutionary role, he allowed his sensibility to attenuate his programmatic zeal. Yet the "synthetist" direction of the Breton paintings was by no means forgotten.

In August of the year this canvas was executed, he wrote to Daniel de Monfreid: "I see you have found an artistic potboiler; I congratulate you; it can only do you good to be forced to decorate. But beware of modeling. The simple stained-glass window, attracting the eye by its divisions of forms and colors, is still the best. A kind of music. Strange that I was born to do decorative art and that I have not been able to achieve it. Either windows, or furniture, or faience, or whatever . . . There he my real aptitudes much more than in painting properly speaking."

And although Gauguin did not quite mean this (he was understandably envious of the money-making possibilities), such a canvas suggests that he was correct in his estimate of one side of his talent. Flat colors, abstract shapes, sweeping, unbroken curves, all unite to make an integrated pattern of decoration. It is an arbitrary pattern that flows insensibly from forms rooted in nature, through stylization to pure invention, and it is a pattern that, in its large elements of continuous line and its small ones of irregular color areas, fills the canvas and gives it movement, and yet permits the figures to stand out in boldness and clarity.

This movement is the painting's "music," at once symbolic and abstract, interpreting and reinforcing the subject through the eye alone. Thus for all its arbitrariness, the scene is suddenly natural, for all its flatness, suggests space, and for all its movement, is calm and quiet.

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