Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) Why Are You Angry? (No Te Aha Oe Riri), 1896 – Detail

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) Why Are You Angry? (No Te Aha Oe Riri), 1896 - Detail


An introduction to Gauguin’s intriguing painting of Tahitian women in front of a thatched house. Just like its title, the painting leaves the viewer with questions.

Why Are You Angry? (No Te Aha Oe Riri) is one of six large canvases of identical dimensions that Paul Gauguin painted during the first months of his second Tahitian sojourn (1895–1903). Like the other works in the group, it exhibits a compositional amplitude and chromatic subtlety that were new to the artist’s work. One senses here the examples of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Georges Seurat behind Gauguin’s assured disposition of figures in space.

Gauguin based Why Are You Angry? on a painting from his first Tahitian sojourn (1891–93), The Big Tree (Te Raau Rahi) (1891; Cleveland Museum of Art and anonymous collector), but in the Art Institute’s canvas, the figures are more prominent. The interrogative title invites narrative readings, but the composition itself resists definitive interpretation. We are probably meant to associate the question with the pouting, bare-chested woman in the foreground; perhaps it is being posed by her companion. These languorous, young women—there are no men in the picture—sit on the ground in front of a thatched house of mysterious character. Its prominent, black door, a void "guarded" by an older woman, may be an oblique sexual allusion. The proximity of two hens and several chicks to the brooding figure, together with the latter’s milk-heavy breasts, suggests that recent motherhood is the cause of her discontent. Perhaps she is jealous of the woman standing at right, whose elegance and serene self-satisfaction point to a sensual existence unfettered by familial obligations. This implied drama of frustrated desire is complicated by the presence of a pair of women in the right background, one of them young and nubile, the other old and bent. But even this evocation of physical decline does not solve the solve the picture’s riddle, which seems to have been carefully devised by Gauguin.

Posted by >UGArdener on 2012-01-14 11:53:51