The Moon and the Earth
1893. Oil on burlap, 45 x 24 1/2" (114.3 x 62.2 cm)
The Moon and the Earth is Paul Gaugin’s interpretation of an ancient Polynesian myth, in which Hina, the female spirit of the Moon, implores Fatou, the male spirit of the Earth, to grant humans eternal life. Fatou resolutely denies Hina’s request. Gaugin’s depiction of Hina and Fatou—marked by great disparity in their size, scale, and coloration—emphasizes their ancient quarrel. Hina stands nude in the foreground, facing Fatou, who looms commandingly in the background. Her upraised arms suggest supplication, while his severe, stone-like face indicates that he remains unmoved by her entreaties. This dramatic scene takes place in a lush, dreamlike landscape setting.
Gauguin’s pioneering use of expressive colors, flat planes, and simplified, distorted forms, and his merging of abstraction and representation, influenced fellow avant-garde artists in the early 20th century. He painted The Moon and the Earth when he was living in Tahiti, a colony of his native France, where he sought to realize his dream of finding an earthly paradise. Born in Paris, Gauguin spent his early childhood in Lima, Peru. This formative experience would lead him to shape an image of himself as a “savage,” a self-identification reflecting his idealizing and derogatory view of the non-Western people and cultures by which he was influenced. It also inclined him to settle for extended periods in different parts of the world, most famously Tahiti.
The Moon and the Earth reflects the exoticism that Gauguin sought in Tahiti. This and the other works he made there were not so much a representation of what he saw as an idealized projection of what he had hoped he would find.
The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.
A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.
A flat or level surface.
The context or environment in which a situation occurs.
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 visual portrayal of someone or something.
A spoken, written, or visual account of an event or a series of connected events.
A large painting applied to a wall or ceiling, especially in a public space.
An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.
The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.
The shape or structure of an object.
The area of an image—usually a photograph, drawing, or painting—that appears closest to the viewer.
The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.
The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.
French for “advanced guard,” this term is used in English to describe a group that is innovative, experimental, and inventive in its technique or ideology, particularly in the realms of culture, politics, and the arts.
Non-representational works of art that do not depict scenes or objects in the world or have discernable subject matter.
A Textured Painting
Gauguin preferred painting on material with a rougher weave. He used burlap, a coarse fabric woven from jute, hemp, or a similar fiber, as the support for The Moon and the Earth. For Gauguin, its textured weave recalled the surface of a wall, a site for such narrative paintings as frescoes and murals.