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An Artist’s Search for Happiness in “Paradise”

An Artist’s Search for Happiness in “Paradise”

 An Artist’s Search for Happiness in “Paradise”


EVER since the first man, Adam, lost Paradise, his descendants have been on a quest to regain what was lost. This feverish search for Paradise has spurred many artists to try to find it in their painting. One such painter was the famous 19th-century artist Paul Gauguin.

About two years ago, hundreds of visitors, including amateur painters, went in two ships to the tiny island of Hiva Oa, one of the Marquesas Islands, in French Polynesia. It was on this island that Gauguin died in 1903. On the centennial of his death, the inauguration of the cultural center that bears his name is what attracted these visitors so fascinated with his work.

Where Is Paradise?

But why did Gauguin more than a century ago flee Europe to end his days on this peaceful island in the South Pacific? After a difficult existence as a poor artist in Europe, Gauguin came to despise his own civilization. He disdained what he saw as the narrow-minded conventions of European culture and its established order. Gauguin reached this conclusion after his first visit to Tahiti, which lasted about two years. Following his return to Europe, he decided: “Nothing will keep me from leaving, and for good. What a stupid existence we have here in Europe!” He expressed his rejection of Western values, and along with many people in the Europe of his time, Gauguin shared the dream of a long-lost paradise where one would be sheltered from the harmful effects of civilization. Gauguin hoped to fulfill his desire for paradise in a garden of delights in the Pacific where peace and sun would reign. He yearned for this beautiful exile, his ideal place for painting.

Gauguin thought, like many others of his time, that living far from established civilization and in harmony with nature is better because of the simplicity of that life. Since the Polynesians lived close to nature and in harmony with it, some people thought that they  could do only good. Their innocent simplicity and gentle disposition seemed to represent the perfect world. Gauguin was in search of such happiness. Agonizingly, however, he was still searching for answers to the mystery of existence and human destiny and the remedy for despair and fear of death.

Gauguin found a source of inspiration in the South Seas. This environment engendered within him an artistic rebirth. One of his preferred subjects was the simple beauty of the people. The faces that he painted gave the impression of serenity, confidence, and satisfaction. Through his canvases, Gauguin wanted to convey a pictorial expression of a legendary world, a dreamlike atmosphere of peace under tropical skies.

True Happiness

Did Gauguin find true happiness in Tahiti or Hiva Oa or on any other island? He was forced to realize that even on these small tropical islands, all life succumbs to death. Perfection is not of this world. At one point in his early years in Tahiti, he wrote: “For some time now I have been feeling gloomy, and my work is being affected. . . . It is joy that’s lacking.” The happy lands depicted in his paintings did not fulfill his expectations. He still felt a need for money, and he also had health problems. Even in this environment, he still could not answer the big questions regarding life. With his mind fixed on the paradox, he decided to paint a large canvas, which would become the masterpiece of his Tahitian work. It was a huge allegorical painting 12 feet [3.75 m] long entitled D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? (Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?). Through it, he attempted to formulate his incomprehension of the world, the impenetrable mystery of our existence.

Answers to the questions about life expressed by Gauguin in his paintings and by  others before and after him are found in the Bible, the book in which God reveals his purpose for mankind. The answers given there are true and satisfying. They offer a sure hope for the future. Besides, they teach us that no matter where we live​—in the Pacific or elsewhere—​it is only by living in harmony with our Creator, Jehovah God, that we can find true happiness. Jehovah’s Witnesses in French Polynesia as well as the rest of the world are happy to share this marvelous hope of a future paradise with others.

Copying the Master

During Gauguin’s centennial celebration, a hundred faithful reproductions of his canvases were on exhibit. These were principally the work of two artists, Claude and Viera Farina. They have lived on Hiva Oa for some time in order to produce copies of Gauguin’s paintings, which they have contributed to the cultural center.

To reproduce and convey the exact impression Gauguin intended, they have studied in the minutest detail the colors and the forms on large photographs of the originals. They explain that far from being a simple task, copying works of art is difficult and takes much time and energy. “The master has in his favor the freedom to create, and if he placed five legs on a table, no one would find that unusual​—in fact, on the contrary, the public would cry genius. But if the copyist forgets a leaf on a bush, his work is severely criticized! That explains  why copyists are less numerous than other artists,” the couple relate. What makes a good copyist? “He must have a profound knowledge of the master and his life because he has nothing to work from apart from the photographs, and even then the colors may not always be faithful. He must, therefore, gather precise information from museums.” Today Gauguin’s canvases fetch a high price, and as a consequence, the Farinas’ work is a precious addition to the cultural center.

[Picture on page 23]

Self-portrait of Paul Gauguin

[Picture on page 23]

“Femmes de Tahiti” or “Sur la plage” (Tahitian Women or On the Beach)

[Pictures on page 24]

“Femme à la mangue” (Woman With Mango), original at top, along with a copy made by Claude and Viera Farina, who are shown below in their studio in Atuona

[Credit Lines]

Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

Copie dʹoeuvre de Gauguin, avec lʹaimable autorisation de Claude et Viera Farina

[Picture on page 25]

“Les Parau Parau” (Idle Rumors)

[Credit Line]

Scala/Art Resource, NY

[Picture on page 25]

“Quand te maries-tu?” (When Will You Get Married?)

[Credit Line]

Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

[Picture Credit Line on page 23]

Artwork: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY