Paul Gauguin’s radical attempts to define a new style are clearly evinced in this beach scene. Women either bathing, standing or sitting on a sunny beach had long been a set piece in art, and was a popular motif with the impressionists in their portrayals of la vie moderne. But for Gauguin, the motif itself was merely a pretext: he wanted above all to view the canvas as an abstract, decorative surface that was to be covered in harmonious colours and rhythmical forms. The three women in the foreground, one of whom is partially obscured by a cliff, thus seem more like cut-out dolls than people of flesh and blood. The artist’s anti-naturalistic programme also enabled him to use colours in a way that did not slavishly follow nature as it was actually seen.
Gauguin was for a long while the most well known of the French post-impressionists in Norway. His Norwegian brother-in-law, Frits Thaulow, had persuaded him to exhibit several paintings at the 1884 Autumn Exhibition in Kristiania; Gauguin was furthermore married to a Dane and resided briefly in Copenhagen. When the restless artist moved back to France, his family remained in Denmark, and several of his works found their way to Copenhagen and the Scandinavian market. It is emblematic that when the National Gallery in Kristiania held a Gauguin exhibition as early as 1910, this could be done with several works from private Norwegian collections, supplemented with paintings from the Gauguin family in Copenhagen. At the Beach was shown at this exhibition, on loan from a Norwegian collector. Three years later the painting was acquired by the National Gallery.
Text: Nils Messel
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0