Maternity

Family groups were a repetead theme in Gauguin's art, especially those of mothers and children. Despite his apparent coldness, and his stubborn determination to put his art above everything else, Gauguin could not forget his own isolation, nor forgive his wife that it was she, not he, who was granted the comfort of their children's companionship. In friendly moods he imagined them all reunited, ending their lives together -- "with white locks [we will] enter a period of peace and spiritual happiness, surrounded by our children, flesh of our flesh" -- a dream that was never to be. Perhaps it was the painful contrast that drew him to the domestic contentment of the Tahitians.

But this picture is no genre anecdote of the primitive, full of realistic detail and incident. On the contrary, it has been stripped of all but its essential symbols of love and care: the nursing mother, guarded, as it were, by watchful and protective sisters; the fruit, of abundance; and the flower, of beauty. We do not know where they are, except that it is in some tropical garden of Arcady (and Poussin would indeed have recognized the group). Earth and sky (distinguishable only in color), move upward behind the group in soft, rounded shapes that echo the flowing contours of the figures. The warm colors of the foreground in close harmony, suggest the warmth and contentment of the human scene, and close it in, yet open out into the note of gaiety of the brilliant hues of the sky beyond.

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