From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is so large that it must be seen in real life.
Artist Paul Gauguin escaped France and settled in the the south seas, Tahiti, where he searched for his version of Arcadia. It was the first time I had seen Gauguin's Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? No reproduction does justice to its color, details and beauty. Twelve five feet wide and four feet high, it must be seen in person to adequately "read the painting." Composed of figures familiar from other Gauguin paintings, this allegory makes us think deeply about the meaning of life via Gauguin's favorite figural types, the women of Tahiti. He depicts youth, adulthood and old age and treats each phase as a moment of discovery and passing to the next, but we may end up with more questions than answers.
The design of The Large Bathers perfectly balances traditional space and compositional structure with the goals of modern art. I always knew how much I loved this painting, but now I know why. The exhibition gave me much new insight and appreciation to fill an entire blog about this painting. Matisse's painting is in the same large room of the exhibition, but the message is less subtle.
Matisse's early Fauvist paintings, Music and The Dance, are abstract and modern but thoroughly a part of the pastoral tradition. Athough the exhibition does not show any of the colorful compositions Matisse did in the first decade of the 20th century, those paintings have tons of color and are steeped in the pastoral tradition. (I'll need to take trip to Philadelphia to see the Barnes Collection with another large version of Cézanne's Bathers and Matisse's famous The Joy of Life.)
A sketch of "Music" from MoMA links back to Poussin's The Andrians, with dancers, a lounging woman and a violinist. This painting is not in the exhibition..