Still Life with Puppies

"This year," wrote Gauguin about the time this picture was painted, "I have sacrificed everything -- execution and color -- for style, wishing to impose upon myself something else than what I [already] know how to do." This painting is in truth filled with the most brilliant color, but it is color determined by a conception so original, and in many ways so much ahead of its time that one understands how Gauguin could feel that he was forcing himself toward a style he had not previously imagined, subordinating all else in the effort. Perspective has been eliminated, because horizontal and vertical merge, or rather are ignored in the power of the design, and because the size of objects bears no relation to reality. Color also is arbitrary, applied either in large uniform areas (as in the glasses), or in broad, coarse strokes (as in the fruit). Shading and shadow, flattened and broadened, are seen within the context of pattern and design, rather than of mass and modeling. Above all, outline has been thickened and emphasized as an external framework which holds each object together, holds them all so tightly as to make the intervals between immense, as though this were a field, and not a table.

Gauguin's sentences from Arles toward the end of the year are applicable to this picture: "I have no use [for shadows] . . . Look at the Japanese who draw so admirably, and you will see that there is life in the open air and in the sun without shadows. . . . I will have as little as possible to do with what gives the illusion of a thing, and since shadows are the trompe l'oeïl of the sun, I am inclined to suppress them. . . . Put in shadows if you find them useful, or leave them out, it is all the same."

At this period Gauguin was talking much of "abstraction," a term which seems well ahead of his time, and he was stressing the freedom from nature, the "arbitrary choice" always allowed the artist. In the basic concept of this canvas, besides its humor, its brilliant spacing and spotting of small objects in a large area that seems to anticipate Matisse, it is not exaggerated to mention the "respect of the picture plane" -- that phrase dear to Cubist and post-Cubist theorists. Here Gauguin has anticipated this concept too.

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