He will remain there until his last heartbeat takes him away from this island he thought would be his own Paradise. On May 8, 1903, in an Island of French Polinesia, Paul Gauguin dies from a morphine overdose.
His mental health issues became the main cause for his addiction to morphine, as well as his attempts at escaping reality. He left France for Tahiti, and when he returned to Europe, he realized his problems would follow him everywhere. He then returned to the tropical hideaway that inspired his most famous paintings.
The greatest proof of his narcissism lies in his canvas. Not only did the artist include himself in the paintings, but he also included references to other pieces he’d made. It’s a gesture that implies everything he made was a masterpiece, and its greatest value was that he’d created it. Gauguin is an auteur who does not let the work speak for itself. Instead, he feels the need to tell the viewer about it.
Sigmund Freud believed all art was inherently narcissistic. After doing thorough research into the artist’s works, psychologist Ronnie Mather stated there was clear proof of Gauguin having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This mental disorder is characterized by a sense of self-importance, need for praise and admiration, illusions of success, power, and entitlement, as well as a lack of empathy towards others. On September 1889, upon his return to the Pacific and after spending time in Arles with fellow artist Vincent Van Gogh, he painted himself as a yellow Christ.
His lifeless arms are kept outstretched by the canvas’ frame. Gauguin’s doomed fate is portrayed in this scene where his image is surrounded by three island women patiently waiting for something. The Christ is painted in the brightest color possible, which also gives the idea of sickness. This occurs because, during his travels, Paul Gauguin was infected with syphilis.
According to Mather, “The yellow Christ has died a narcissistic death. He demands attention, but the death of the second person of the trinity symbolizes the crushing of the ego, its omnipotence, and the moment of origin of its need for veneration. The death of the self or at least part of it.”
If there is any doubt left regarding the troubles of Gauguin’s Christ, we can compare it to this self-portrait where the similarities between the two characters are quite obvious.
The crucified body will remain there until his ego disappears into the tropical landscape, until there’s nothing left of his memory amidst the beautiful nature and colors of this faraway land. Paul Gauguin is dead, and all that’s left are the artworks telling a story of self-importance and arrogance.
There are plenty of links between mental illness and art, here are eight paintings that showcase this link.
Translated by María Suárez