“Vision after the Sermon” by Paul Gauguin
“Vision after the Sermon” by Paul Gauguin depicts a scene from the Bible in which Jacob wrestles an angel. It illustrates this indirectly, through a vision that the women see after a sermon in church. It was painted in Brittany, France, in 1888, where Gauguin focused increasingly on interpreting the religious subject matter in his unique personal way. Gauguin was moving away from naturalism towards a more abstracted, even symbolic, manner of painting. The tale of Jacob wrestling an angel is from Genesis in the Old Testament.
The bold use of colour, shape, and line in this painting reflects the influence of the Japanese woodblock prints that Gauguin owned. While formal elements of Gauguin’s paintings reflect the impact of Japanese prints, his choice of subject and composition are uniquely his own. As Gauguin developed the idea of non-naturalistic landscapes, he applied large areas of flat colour to the piece. The red ground departs from the conventional representation of the landscape. In portraying the watching figures, Gauguin experiments with the distortion of shapes, exaggerating features. He uses sharp contour lines and not gradual shifts in tone. The brown trunk, black garments, white hats and red field are painted with minimal colour shading.
The painting also potentially has some interesting symbolism:
- Is the apple tree, the tree of knowledge from Eden?
- Twelve Breton women and a priest watch the event. Is 12 representing Jacob’s offspring and the 12 tribes of Israel?
- The tree divides the painting into two parts. The vision and the faithful?
Gauguin described this painting to his friend Vincent Van Gogh:
“I think I have achieved in the figures a great simplicity, rustic and superstitious. …
For me, in this picture, the landscape and the struggle exist only in the imagination of the people praying after the sermon,
which is why there is a contrast between the people and the struggle,
in its non-natural, disproportionate landscape.”
Jacob wrestling with the Angel
Jacob wrestling with the angel is an episode from Genesis. The account includes the renaming of Jacob as Israel. The “angel” is referred to as “man” in Genesis, while Hosea references an “angel”, but the episode is also often referenced as Jacob’s “wrestling with God”. The identity of Jacob’s wrestling opponent is a matter of debate. Interpretations have included: a dream figure, a prophetic vision, an angel, Jesus, or God. Most artists have depicted Jacob wrestling with the Angel.
In the Genesis narrative, Jacob spent the night alone on a riverside during his journey back to Canaan. He encounters a “man” who proceeds to wrestle with him until daybreak. In the end, Jacob is given the name “Israel” and blessed, while the “man” refuses to give his name.
Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist, who was not appreciated until after his death. Gauguin is now recognised for his experimental use of colour and the Synthetist style that were distinctly different from Impressionism. He spent the last ten years of his life in French Polynesia, and most of his paintings from this time depict people or landscapes from that region.
His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Gauguin’s art became famous after his death. Gauguin was an essential figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and writer.
Vision after the Sermon
- Title: Vision after the Sermon or Jacob wrestling with the Angel)
- French: La Vision après le Sermon
- Artist: Paul Gauguin
- Year: 1888
- Medium: oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 72.2 cm × 91 cm (28.4 in × 35.8 in)
- Museum: Scottish National Gallery
- Artist: Paul Gauguin
- Birth Name: Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin
- Born: 1848, Paris, France
- Died: 1903 (aged 54), Atuona, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
- Nationality: French
- Movement: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Primitivism
- Notable works:
Explore Scotland’s Museums
- Is Paul Gauguin depicting his own struggle with faith?
- What were Gauguin’s religious views?
“I shut my eyes in order to see.”
– Paul Gauguin
Photo Credit: Paul Gauguin [Public domain]