Visual Descriptions

Paul Gauguin. The Moon and the Earth. 1893 71

Oil on burlap, 45 x 24 1/2" (114.3 x 62.2 cm). Lillie P. Bliss Collection

Narrator 1: 7–1. The Moon and the Earth, painted in 1893 by the French artist Paul Gauguin, 1848 to 1903. Oil paints on burlap. 45 inches high by 24 inches wide. 114 by 62 centimeters.

Narrator 2: Gauguin left Europe in 1890 for what he hoped would be an earthly paradise… Tahiti. This painting conveys the exoticism that Gauguin sought on the south Pacific island. The colors are subdued, perhaps it is dusk. A native woman, naked except for the bracelet on her right wrist and the greenish flowers in her hair, stands slightly left of center—her back toward us, her figure extending the height of the canvas. Her bare feet, just a few inches from the painting’s bottom edge, stand flat on the ground. Her slightly bent left arm is raised over her head, her hand almost reaching the top edge of the canvas. Her right arm is bent with her hand grazing her mouth.

Her face is seen in profile looking up and to her right. She is gazing at the figure of a dark–skinned man whose head and torso dominate the upper right quarter of the painting. He is seen only from his bare chest up. His arms and the rest of his body are not visible. In fact, he seems to float in space as though he were a vision, or an apparition. He looks directly forward past the female figure, and impassively beyond us as well.

The two figures represent the moon and earth of the painting’s title. They differ dramatically from one another. She is the Moon, and her skin has shades of yellow, tan and ocher, with highlights of orange. Her hair is deep brown, and hangs down to the middle of her back. He is the Earth, and his skin is a much darker brown. His shoulder length hair is even darker, and encircles his face, which is also covered by a dark beard and mustache. Her eyes are closed. His dark eyes stare fixedly forward.

There is a sense of flat, two–dimensionality to this painting. The female figure is closer to us than the male figure but it is hard to detect any space between them. She is painted at a smaller scale than him, which adds to the feeling that he represents a mystical apparition. To the left and right of the standing woman, patches of white and green suggest tropical vegetation emerging from blue–gray shadows. While along the painting’s lower right side, water cascades from the vegetation down into a pool of reddish–orange. Is it a pool of water reflecting the setting sun? That particular reddish–orange reappears as highlights in the woman’s naked skin, as a vaguely defined aura behind the male figure, and in the artist’s signature along the bottom left edge.

Narrator 1: To hear the Collection Tour audio on this work, press 5–2–0.