There is a limited amount of colours in this painting but how profound they are!
In the Waves is a hidden abstraction. Although we can clearly see a nude ginger-haired woman throwing herself into a deep sea, it is an interaction between colours which makes that work alive.
As the other French painter and Gaugin’s admirer, Maurice Denis once put it “a painting, before being a battle horse, a nude woman or any anecdote, is essentially a plane surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order”. That’s what In the Waves exactly is.
Denis has seen the painting at the Café Volpini in Paris in 1889, where it was first exhibited with the other works of Gauguin and his friends. He immediately fell in love with them.
Powerful colours with brutal strokes. The green background is irrepressible. It dominates the whole canvas. The colour becomes an element of nature itself as the water it is depicting.
Now, the hair. Is it red? Orange? Or a kind of glowing ochre? Either way, it perfectly counterbalances the all-embracing green. Actually, orange and green are almost on opposite sides of the colour wheel. Together, these two contrasting colours appear more prominent.
In the Waves by Paul Gauguin as an art print in the oak frame on the living room wall would catch an eye instantly. Its striking colours guarantee that. Anyway, shades of green are en vogue again!