gauguin where do we come from what are we where are we going
“If anyone said to the students competing for the Rome Prize at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the picture you must paint is to represent Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? what would they do? I have finished a philosophical work on this theme, comparable to the Gospels. I think it is good.”
“To the right, below, a sleeping baby and three seated women. Two figures dressed in purple confide their thoughts to each other. An enormous crouching figure which intentionally violates the perspective, raises its arm in the air and looks in astonishment at these two people who dare to think of their destiny. A figure in the center is picking fruit. Two cats near a child. A white goat. An idol, both arms mysteriously and rhythmically raised, seems to indicate the Beyond. A crouching girl seems to listen to the idol. Lastly, an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts. She completes the story. At her feet a strange white bird, holding a lizard in its claw [sic], represents a futility of words.
Gauguin himself affirmed that after painting вЂњWhere do we come from? What are we? Where are we goingвЂќ he tried to commit suicide. We do not know for certain if that confession is true, but it is a fact that just before painting his masterwork, a series of events followed each other in a dramatic sequence, as presaging a tragic and bitter end for his romance with Tahiti.
oil on canvas, 139 x 375 cm. – Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
In 1898, Gauguin sent the painting to Georges-Daniel de Monfreid in Paris. Monfreid passed it to Ambroise Vollard along with eight other thematically related pictures shipped earlier. They went on view at Vollard’s gallery from November to December 1898.  The exhibition was a success, although D’où Venons Nous? received mixed reviews. The critic Andre Fontainas of the Mercure de France acknowledged a grudging respect for the work but thought the allegory impenetrable were it not for the inscription, and compared the painting unfavourably to the murals of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes who had died recently. Vollard had already purchased the other works as a job lot from Monfreid for 1,000 francs (Gauguin was furious when he found out),  but refrained from purchasing the larger monumental work and had difficulty selling it on.
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is a painting by French artist Paul Gauguin. Gauguin inscribed the original French title in the upper left corner: D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous. The inscription the artist wrote on his canvas has no question mark, no dash, and all words are capitalized. In the upper right corner he signed and dated the painting: P. Gauguin / 1897.  The painting was created in Tahiti, and is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, US.
“The idol in my picture is not there as a literary explanation, but as a statue; is perhaps less of a statue than the animal figures, and is also less animal, since it is one with nature in the dream I dream before my hut. It rules our primitive souls, the imaginary consolation of our suffering, vague and ignorant as we are about the mystery of our origin and our destiny.
“It is a canvas about five feet by twelve. The two upper corners are chrome yellow, with an inscription on the left, and my name on the right, like a fresco on a golden wall with its corners damaged.
Provenance 1898, sent by the artist in Tahiti to Georges Daniel de Monfreid (b. 1856 – d. 1929), Paris; consigned by Monfreid and his agent to Ambroise Vollard (b. 1867 – d. 1939), Paris [see note 1]; 1901, sold by Vollard to Gabriel Frizeau (b. 1870 – d. 1938), Bordeaux [see note 2]; probably 1913, sold by Frizeau to the Galérie Barbazanges, Paris; before 1920, sold by Barbazanges to J. B. Stang, Oslo [see note 3]; 1935, probably sold by Stang to or through Alfred Gold, Berlin and Paris [see note 4]. 1936, Marie Harriman Gallery, New York [see note 5]; 1936, sold by the Harriman Gallery to the MFA for $80,000. (Accession Date: April 16, 1936)
 The painting was exhibited at the Galerie Ambroise Vollard, November 17 – December 10, 1898.