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Landscapes: Real and Imagined

Discover groundbreaking techniques in early modern landscape paintings.


The Moon and the Earth

Paul Gauguin
(French, 1848–1903)

1893. Oil on burlap, 45 x 24 1/2" (114.3 x 62.2 cm)

The Moon and the Earth is Gaugin’s depiction of an ancient Polynesian myth, in which Hina, the female spirit of the Moon, emplores Fatou, the male spirit of the Earth, to grant humans eternal life. It is a request Fatou resolutely denies. Gaugin’s depiction of Hina and Fatou—marked by a great disparity in the figures’ size, scale, and coloration—seems to reflect their ancient quarrel. In the foreground, Hina’s nude figure is in full view, while Fatou, rendered from the chest up, looms larger than life in the background. But there is no middle ground; the distance between them appears impassable.

The ratio between the size of an object and its model or representation, as in the scale of a map to the actual geography it represents.

The part of the picture that is between the foreground and background.

The area of an image—usually a photograph, drawing, or painting—that appears closest to the viewer.

The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.

A Closer Look
If you look closely at this work you’ll see that it is a painting on burlap. Gauguin liked using supports that had this very textured weave, which recalls the roughness of a wall or a fresco—of an art that could tell stories.

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AUDIO: Curator Anne Umland discusses Gaugin’s The Moon and the Earth