Gauguin Wrestles with Art

Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon or Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1888) Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Scotland

Gauguin's great painting of Jacob wrestling with the Angel is commonly known as Vision after the Sermon, perhaps to make sense of the women who were obviously not present in the Bible story. Two years ago I explained the scene as taking place in Gauguin's own mind as the painter, represented by these religious women "facing the canvas", watch as his creative soul wrestles with art.1 It is just another example of a very old pictorial tradition: the depiction of an artist's inner creative struggle. I recently came across a poem by Herman Melville titled Art which could not be more apropros. Here are the last four lines:

"Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art."2

 

1. Abrahams, "Gauguin's Vision after the Sermon (1888)". (published online, 2011)

2. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182480

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