Part of growing up for me has been to let go of things that I can’t do perfectly and not feel guilty about it. I still remember last year when I couldn’t even sleep peacefully even after working for 10 hours straight, just because I hadn’t completed everything on my to-do list.
It took a lot of sleepless nights for me to realize that I was just putting too much on my everyday list and it was impossible to get things done in a single day. Even if they can be done in a single day, it is okay to not finish all the work some days, just because you feel good about doing it.
That is why, this post is so late. I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t find any inspiring paintings and I was knee deep in work. But then I found this painting right when I finished replying to stacks of emails, and I thought - Why not?
One of the reasons why I picked Post Impressionism Art as my topic is because of how close-knit the artists were with each other (even though they fought sometimes). This was a habit imbibed by Vincent Van Gogh who himself was inspired by Japanese artists and saw close they were.
So, he wrote to Gauguin explaining the importance of sticking together and learning from each other. And that is how Les Miserables was made
About Les Miserables by Paul Gauguin
As you can guess, this painting was inspired by the critically acclaimed and popular book of the same name by Victor Hugo.
In this self portrait, Paul Gauguin stands as the main subject and poses as Victor Hugo’s protagonist and anti-hero Jean Valjean, who remained true to his morals even after being vilified by people around.
There is a portrait at the back of the wall, and that is actually a portrait of Émile Bernard, another post impressionist artist and a close friend of Gauguin and Van Gogh.
Though years later, Bernard accused Gauguin of stealing his ideas. (Gauguin also stole Van Gogh’s sunflowers idea, so I am guessing this was a pattern)
In fact, if you look at the yellow coloured wallpaper closely, you will see the yellow is very similar to Vincent’s yellow shade which he used in Sunflowers, Cafe Terrace at Night, and Bedroom in Arles.
Émile Bernard did a similar painting with him as the main subject and Gauguin’s portrait at the back. His is rather mediocre, but at least Bernard didn’t steal anyone’s ideas.
My thoughts about Les Miserables
When I first saw the painting and realized how old it is, I thought may be Victor Hugo was the one who got his book’s name from this painting. But a little research made me realize that the book came out in 1862 and the painting was done in 1888. Considering Gauguin lived in Paris most of his life, he probably had access to great literature pieces.
I am not sure why Gauguin painted himself as the anti-hero. May be because he was a fan of the book or may be because he knew he wasn’t loved by a lot of people. May be he did knew his actions didn’t leave everyone impressed and he still wanted to do whatever he did.
May be it was his way of being unapologetic and staying true to himself. Yes, I am going to steal Van Gogh’s yellow and no I am not going to feel guilty about it because that’s just who I am.
"Art is either plagiarism or revolution" - Paul Gauguin