Landscape with Dog
Oil on canvas
73.5 x 92.5 cm
Bequest of Robert and Marguerite Kahn-Sriber, Paris, to the State of Israel, in memory of Amnon Ben Natan, who fell in the Yom Kippur War. On permanent loan to The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, from the Administrator General of Israel
Accession number: L-B01.001
This painting is one of six Gauguin created on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas in early 1903, the year he died. He naturalistically depicted the view inland toward the mountains from his house to which his worsening health often confined him. Behind the rock wall that separates his property from the road stands Ben Varney's store in its distinctive turquoise color, and beyond that the Catholic mission's compound. On his property he included a pile of tropical pandanus leaves under a vine and a branch of wild bananas. The landscape's composition is classical: receding planes lie parallel to the surface, while diagonals provide a feeling of depth. Thus the diagonal boundary between the purple and pink areas is echoed in the right side of the pile of leaves and the trees, in the roofs and in the left-hand purplish hill.
While the greens of the distant landscape and the gray hills are naturalistic, Gauguin paints his property in fantastic pinks and purples that are echoed in the land around the store. His land, including the store that provided his food, thus becomes a mysterious domain separated from the reality around it. Yet the lush vegetation of this reality is pleasant, and even the rugged volcanic mountains are softened, lit by the morning sun.
In the center of his property a black dog with white paws confronts a diminutive hen who ruffles her feathers to expand her size. Although Gauguin may actually have witnessed such a confrontation, these animals have symbolic meaning. Gauguin's dog, named Pego (slang for penis) after the artist's shortened signature "PGo," is one of the "savage" alter-egos he created after 1896. In January–February 1903, while working on this painting, he set a stylized version of this dog as an alter-ego beside the inscription "Bonjour M. Gauguin." The hen may symbolize those Gauguin was attacking in his vituperative writings: in 1902 he inveighed against the Catholic church in L'Esprit Moderne et le Catholicisme and against art critics in Racontars du Rapin, and in 1903, he attacked social norms in Avant et Après and the authorities on Hiva Oa in a series of letters. Starting in February–March, the repercussions from these letters would hound him into his grave.
This painting was then used as the background for the smaller, less carefully executed allegorical painting, The Invocation. Gauguin eliminated the houses, moved the leaves and vine to the right, and added figures derived from other paintings that convey a sense of unease: one invokes heaven's help, two others try to leave the picture, while another two brood worriedly under the white cross of the cemetery, which has been moved to the left, although it was really situated on the hill on the right. Inhabiting Gauguin's property, these women try in vain to find a way out of some dilemma, while the cemetery suggests their impending doom. Instead of the assurance expressed in the peaceful Landscape with Dog, with its classic composition, dream-like colors, and positive confrontation, Gauguin now symbolized his anxiety as he sought to escape the large fine and jail term imposed upon him for slander.