The Vision of the Sermon is a seminal work and one of the most famous and important paintings that Gauguin produced during his stay in the Breton village of Pont-Aven. Here the artist finally breaks away from the Impressionist style that had hallmarked his earlier pictures and finds his own, unique artistic voice. In place of a naturalistic reproduction of the outer, visible world, Gauguin portrays an inner,
“visionary” reality. In this respect, the title of the painting, too, seems programmatic. Gauguin’s new style, which was given the name of “Synthetism”, is characterized by a palette of particular intensity and by boldly outlined color fields that, largely dispensing with spatial depth, emphasize the twodimensionality of the picture.
With The Vision of the Sermon, Gauguin became a reference point for a whole group of artists known as the Pont-Aven School. The subject—Jacob’s battle with the angel—is taken from the Old Testament. In Gauguin’s painting, however, the scene unfolds in a wholly new fashion: Jacob and the angel in the background are appearing as a vision to the women in Breton costume praying in the foreground. The tree trunk running diagonally across the composition thereby serves to separate the secular from the religious sphere and reality from imagination. Acting as intermediary between these two realms is the priest in the lower right-hand corner, whose features recall those of Gauguin. Are we looking at a hidden
self-portrait of the artist? Whatever the case, Gauguin presents us in this masterpiece with his very own vision of a Vision.
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