Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of the Arts


Art and Design

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Anne Betty Weinshenker

Committee Member

Susi Colin

Committee Member

Mimi Weinberg


The purpose of this thesis is to reveal Paul Gauguin’s expression of his theosophical beliefs in his 1891 painting la Orana Maria. Through extensive research into Gauguin’s system of beliefs on art and religion I intend to demonstrate the likelihood that the tenets of Theosophy would have appealed to his spiritual and aesthetic sensibilities. Gauguin’s involvement in the Symbolist movement, his mystical inclinations, the desire to understand and attain enlightenment, his knowledge of, and respect for religions of the East, and his fascination with the “primitive” are all addressed as pathways that led him to express his theosophical beliefs in painting. Initially, I approach this study by reviewing Gauguin’s life as it led him to Symbolism, and by analyzing certain characteristics of la Orana Maria, such as his abstraction and purification of forms, indicative of Gauguin’s eastern influences and theosophical beliefs. Additionally, I explore Gauguin’s feelings towards Christianity and how Theosophy would have been an attractive alternative. Gauguin was an intensely spiritual man, constantly aspiring to create meaningful art, while continually struggling with perceived personal shortcomings, persistent illness, and an internal conflict between the Christian tradition in which he was raised, and the modern philosophical thought of the late nineteenth century. All of these factors are addressed regarding their roles in Gauguin’s adoption of Theosophy. The writings of many Gauguin scholars are referenced as a means by which I am able to substantiate my claim that Gauguin was involved in avant-garde thinking of his time, that this enabled him to discover a religion that suited his personal values, lifestyle, beliefs about humanity, faith and redemption, and that he articulated this the best way he knew how - in painting.

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