Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel)

Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon melds a Christian scene and a realistic one set in Brittany, a Northern region of France.  The Breton women represent the realistic while the wrestlers are from Christianity.

The Breton Women in Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) are the focus of the painting. The Breton women are gathered together after a Christian sermon. They take up about half of the painting and are larger than the wrestlers in the top right.  They are done in colors as from nature.  The skin of the women is pale, their hats are white and shaded, and their dresses are black.  Besides for the thick outlines and the breaking of the general rule that Impressionists should never use black, the women are done in a near-Impressionist style.

In the upper-right, separated from the women by the strong diagonal of a tree, Jacob wrestles with an angel. The story is familiar from Genesis 32 and the Book of Hosea 12 and it has been done in many pieces of art including one by Rembrandt.  However, in most other pieces of art the duo take center stage and are done in realistic and sober colors.  In Paul Gauguin’s piece “the landscape and the fight exist only in the imagination of the people praying after the sermon.” (Gauguin) The landscape is a surreal red and both Jacob and the angel are simplified and painted in unusual colors. Gauguin said himself that the two figures were painted in “violent ultramarine,” “bottle green,” “pure chrome-yellow” and “orange.”

Gauguin was never religious himself and therefore never felt limited to Christian iconography.  Still, regardless of his own atheism, Gauguin was impressed by the simple and powerful belief of the women of Brittany.  Behind this painting, is Gauguin’s conviction that the faith of the women was so strong that it could conjure a vision such as the one he painted.  The austere lifestyle of the Bretons prompted him to spend large amounts of time painting in Brittany.  The women in this scene look similar to other works done by Gauguin in Brittany, like Four Breton Women.  

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