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The Getty Museum Los Angeles: Arii Matamoe by Paul Gauguin Report

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Updated: Jan 10th, 2022

Introduction

The Getty Museum Los Angeles is a home to exotic drawings, art, manuscripts, and paintings. It is famous for the world’s most outstanding paintings done before the 20th century such as the Arii Matamoe, Irises, the Halberdier portrait and the attractive portray of Louis XIV. The most fascinating artwork that seems to catch the eye of most tourists visiting the museum is the Arii Matamoe (The Royal End). The museum recently bought a magnificent piece of art from an identified seller and it is in very good condition. The ancient artwork had been kept privately in Switzerland and had only received public viewing once since 1946. Michael Brand, one of the directors at Getty was quick to point out that the acquisition of the masterpiece is one of the proud moments of the museum to add on to other works of Gauguin.

Historical Artistic Context

The artwork was done by Paul Gauguin in 1982 when he moved to Tahiti. This was the period when the last Tahitian ruler King Pomare V passed on. It was a disappointment to Gauguin who had earlier witnessed a beheading tradition by the Tahitians and had even attended such a ceremony in 1888.

The painting creates an apprehensive mood with a head resting on a white cushion with its eyes closed. There are some bright flowers placed by the side of the cushion. There is a naked woman in the background who seems to be in deep thought and other people who appear saddened by events.

Gauguin used an art technique that he calls ‘dessin-stamped where a piece of paper is placed at the bottom and covered wholly with printing ink. Another sheet of paper is placed on top and the artist uses it to draw the pictures. A magnificent pictorial aspect is achieved after the combination of the inks in both sheets of paper.

Elements and Design Principles

Excellent artwork should possess some of the art principles and elements. The artist chooses the principles and elements he wishes to be outstanding in his piece of artwork and these are the elements that are used to analyze the workpiece. Art element includes how the lines have been used, the shape, value and form of the artwork, how the colors have been mixed and the texture it appears to attain. The lines actually form the basic outline and therefore one of the most notable and outstanding elements of artwork and which form the shape of the design to be analyzed. The Value on the other hand determines the tone of the design and how the artist has applied the degree relating to darkness, lighting or contrast of the artwork. The art dimension defining the width, depth or the length of the design is achieved by the form it takes.

Design on the other hand can be in various forms such as cylinders, boxes or even pyramids. It further determines the spacing of the objects thus serving as a focal point of analyzing the picture. Merging different color shades to create a particular in-depth effect further defines and differentiates all the combined elements of art used in the picture. The roughness or smoothness of the art piece is determined by the texture.

To integrate all the elements of the art piece, the artist has to use the principles such as balance, contrast, movement and proportion. The harmonious combination of the elements such as colors, texture, and shapes creates a perfect balance. Movement is achieved by contrasting the elements that tend to hold the eyes of the person analyzing the picture and act as a leader throughout the artwork. The contrasting shapes and colors in the art aid to guide the movement of the eye of the analyzer.

Visual Analysis and Interpretation

The piece of art has been done artistically with all its elements confined in the frame and the composition seems to have a continuation beyond the wailing people in the background. On the other hand, the artist has used a mixture of warm and cool colors that seem to create a somber mood yet manage to maintain some calmness in the picture. The colors are also well mixed to bring out the emotion of the picture in a beautiful way leaving a sensational feeling just by staring at it. The rough lines used however seem to create a jolting feeling that all is not well. The artist also coordinates the tone and lighting of the picture excellently. He uses brighter paint where the head is resting as compared to the other scenes of the picture. This makes the head his focal point by painting the cushioning white and placing red flowers beside the head.

The painting has a perfect balance of the elements that help to create a sad mood and on the other hand a feeling of satisfaction by the events taking place. There is a contrasting effect in the picture which only a real artist can notice by staring and analyzing the painting. The artist adopted a rough texture in the painting to indicate that the event in the painting is indeed a rough one. The painting plays well with the elements to enhance the movement of the eyes of the analyzer.

Interpretation of the Art Work

When analyzing any artwork, the analyzer attempts to put themselves in the mind of the painter. This aids the analyzer to get the real picture and the meaning intended by the painter. This aspect is very important in artwork for interpretation. The painting is engrossed with two Tahitian words ‘Arii’ and ‘Matamoe’ which have been interpreted to mean ‘noble’ and ‘sleeping eyes’ or ‘death’ respectively. Bearing in mind that the painting was done during the period when Tahitians were mourning the death of their ruler, the head without the body can therefore be interpreted to represent the king. The figures in the background represent the sorrowful nation. This is however in contrast with the real funeral as the king was buried with his body.

Gauguin adopts a westernized iconography in the painting. His main agenda is to create a link between the Western theme and the traditions in the Tahitian environment. The use of bright colors used in the flowers is juxtaposed with dull colors in the rest of the painting to bring out a tropical sense of feeling.

Conclusion

Gauguin is a symbolic artist and this is evident in this piece of magnificent artwork. The painting has a mixture of both Western and Eastern descriptions. This is evident in most of his other works also available for viewing at the museum. The Arii Matamoe (The Royal End) is a piece of art that any artist should view and enjoy the inner feeling that it depicts.

Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)
Arii Matamoe (The Royal End), 1892. By Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). LA, J. Paul Getty Museum
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IvyPanda. "The Getty Museum Los Angeles: Arii Matamoe by Paul Gauguin." January 10, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-getty-museum-los-angeles-arii-matamoe-by-paul-gauguin/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "The Getty Museum Los Angeles: Arii Matamoe by Paul Gauguin." January 10, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-getty-museum-los-angeles-arii-matamoe-by-paul-gauguin/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'The Getty Museum Los Angeles: Arii Matamoe by Paul Gauguin'. 10 January.

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