Village in Martinique (Femmes et Chevre dans le village)
Oil on canvas
45.7 x 71 cm
Gift of Jan and Ellen Mitchell, New York, through the America-Israel Cultural Foundation
Accession number: B70.0486
In 1887, Gauguin and Charles Laval went to Panama, and then to Martinique, searching for a warm, healthy climate and a cheap place to live a natural, "savage" life. Residing during the summer in a cabin like those depicted here, they created works that have sometimes been misattributed. This painting is definitely by Gauguin: it depicts images — such as the goat suckling under this specific tree, the seated woman holding her foot and the woman walking — that he incorporated into his reminiscences of Martinique in his 1889 zincographs. Although still basically Impressionist in style, this painting indicates changes in his approach to subject matter and color.
In Martinique, Gauguin became fascinated with the rural, slow-cadenced outdoor life of the "exotic" dark-skinned population, an attraction that would later draw him to Tahiti. In this painting, the natives lethargically rest in the midday summer sun, barely able to move: one sleeps on her stomach while her companion meditates. A third woman has just enough strength to raise her hand to converse with the woman sauntering toward them holding a basket of fruit on her head. Their motions are echoed in the tree trunks behind them that seem to sag under the heavy folliage that provides little shade. On the other side of the row of cabins, a goat suckles her kid, supplying it both with milk and with shade under her body. This heavy atmosphere is reinforced by the flat azure sky: instead of injecting a breath of air, it combines with the orange roof to emphasize the heat.
The colors show Gauguin's changing approach to tonality. While the ground and huts are painted with modulated Impressionist strokes in pinks and beiges and the foliage is in shades of green, the other colors gain in intensity. It is no accident that the women on the left are in variants of the primary colors of blue, red and yellow, or that the green sash and kerchief of the strolling woman complement her pink dress with its touches of red. The blue dress mirrors the azure sky, while the red skirt is echoed in the orange roof in the background and in the earth around the foreground tree. This tree has large leaves that stand out against the flat sky, unlike the Impressionist foliage, and many of the figures and objects are outlined.
Instead of adopting Cézanne's use of planes to create a play between two- and three-dimensions as he had in Houses at Vaugirard, Gauguin substitutes a coloristic approach. The diagonals produced by the houses and the women suggest a depth that is opposed by the bright flat areas in the upper center that surge out of the depth toward the surface. In like manner, the sky's echo in the blue dress and that of the orange roof in the red skirt and around the tree's roots, visually unite the fore-, middle- and background planes.
Like Woman on a Stroll, Village in Martinique is a transitional work: in it Gauguin experiments with elements that he will soon build into a new style.