Paul Gauguin (1848–1903): The Little One Is Dreaming, Étude
Oil on canvas | 60 x 74 cm | 1881
In his early work Gauguin mainly used his close surroundings, with pictures of the family in and around the home, as motifs. The dreaming child seen here is his daughter Aline, who was born in 1877. Yet it is not the trivialities of everyday life that are the main concern; it is the big existential questions about life, dreaming and death that are Gauguin’s themes.
On the wallpaper in the background we see an early example of his interest in giving the decoration in the painting a symbolic meaning. Here it is the bird’s hovering movements to and from the nest that can be associated for example with the child’s dream or the artist’s thoughts. The amputated, stiffened doll in a jester’s costume hanging on the bed in the foreground, with its central placing and its strong expression, is also an essential, meaningful detail in the picture. It gives the painting an eerie, almost ominous aspect which provides a perspective for the child’s dream, and is repeated time and time again in Gauguin’s later work.
In his early years Gauguin was influenced by Impressionism, but his work can first and foremost be called Symbolist. When he went to live on Tahiti in 1895 it was as part of a movement away from civilization towards a life based on a dream of Paradise and primitivism. A central characteristic of Gauguin is the questing, experimental nature of both his life and work.
Motifs: Portraits, still lifes, landscapes, pictures with motifs from Brittany and Tahitian motifs.
Read more about Gauguin at the Musée d’Orsay’s website.