art ‘striving for liberation’: quote from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence (novel loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin)

“when I imagined that on seeing his pictures I should get a clue to the understanding of his strange character I was mistaken. They merely increased the astonishment with which he filled me. I was more at sea than ever. The only thing that seemed clear to me – and perhaps even this was fanciful – was that he was passionately striving for liberation from some power that held him. But what the power was and what line the liberation would take remained obscure. Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown to them. We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener’s aunt is in the house”

W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

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Exquisite Words from the Journals of Paul Gauguin after the Death of Van Gogh

‘Scattered notes, without sequence, like dreams, like a life all made up of fragments; and because others have shared in it, the love of beautiful things seen in the houses of others. Things that are sometimes childish when they are written, some of them the fruits of one’s leisure, some the classifications of beloved though perhaps foolish ideas, – in defiance of a bad memory, and some rays that pierce to the vital centre of my art. If a work of art were a work of chance, all these notes would be useless. I believe that the thought which has guided my work, a part of my work, is mysteriously linked with a thousand other thoughts, some my own, some those of others…

Sometimes I have gone far back, farther back than the horses of the Parthenon… as far back as the Dada of my babyhood, the good rocking-horse. I have lingered among the Nymphs of Corot, dancing in the sacred wood of Ville-d’Avray… I have the sensation of something endless of which I am the beginning. Moorea on the horizon; the sun is approaching it. I follow its mournful march; without comprehending it I have the sensation of a movement that is going to go on forever: a universal life that will never be extingished.

And lo, the night. Everything is quiet. My eyes close, to see without grasping it the dream in infinite space that flees before me. And I have the sweet sensation of the mournful procession of my hopes…

– Paul Gauguin, Intimate Journals

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NB: Featured image is Gauguin’s ‘Day of the God’ (1894). This passage from Gauguin’s journals comes directly after his description of his final communications with Van Gogh before his suicide in 1890, which affected him very deeply. Gauguin had taken Van Gogh under his wing, and they had spent some years together in friendship before Van Gogh’s eventual mental collapse.

 

the-painter-of-sunflowers
Gauguin’s ‘The Painter of Sunflowers’ (1888) depicting Van Gogh. Van Gogh remarked to Gauguin of the image “it is certainly I, but it’s I gone mad!”.