Why Are You Angry? (No Te Aha Oe Riri): Paul Gauguin

Why Are You Angry (No Te Aha Oe Riri) Paul Gauguin

Why Are You Angry? (No Te Aha Oe Riri) is an 1896 painting in the Post-Impressionist style by the leading French artist Paul Gauguin.

This is a vision of Tahitian life by Paul Gaugin. Like several others from his Tahitian collection, it encloses tactfully an occurrence in the relations between people, interesting because of a context which was, for Gaugin and his Parisian audience, alien and attractive.

The painting was completed one year after Gaugin’s final visit to the island, in 1895.

It gives a village scene in which exclusively female figures walk, sit, converse, and, in the case of the main, melancholic figure, take a pause to stand in place for a moment and reflect.

The figure in Why Are You Angry of the standing woman is one of the most interesting of Paul Gaugin’s entire oeuvre. She is also a rare occurrence in the entire artistic canon because of her stolid posture — one foot advanced upon the other, her straight back causing the lower part of her body to incline forwards and the upper half backward for an overall impression of strong balance and stability.

For this impression, it is significant that we see her in perfect profile.

A pair of women sitting on the grass to the left seems intent on a serious conversation. It appears to be nearing evening, which we evince from the abundance of shadows, in particular the bluish backdrop on the reddish thatched roof in the background. Another pair of women appear to be coming in from the fields on the right.

In this manifestly social vision, Gaugin leaves the undeveloped impression that something of human importance has happened. He does this through the brooding female figure in the forefront, but also through the French/Tahitian title of his painting: Why Are You Angry? (No Te Aha Oe Riri). He leaves us, the viewers, to imagine who (most likely the main figure) is angry at whom, and why. He knows that our eyes will search her face, posture, and clothing for every conceivable clue. He likely expects that we should wonder whether the chatting pair to the left have anything to do with the issue that this “problem picture” only alludes to.

Gaugin’s Tahitian pictures begin in April 1891 and his arrival to the then-capital of Papeete, a city he is disappointed to discover extensively Westernised. In his fascinated excursion through Tahiti, Gaugin sought the pure simplicity that he believed “uncivilized” human existence possessed. He, therefore, admires those purely human concerns — jealousies, disagreements, melancholias — that he finds afflicting human beings so happily (he esteems) removed from the mendacious artifice of “civilization”.

Paul Gauguin’s Why Are You Angry? (No Te Aha Oe Riri) is located in the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois, the United States.

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