The purpose of art is truly multifaceted; however, it is art's narrative function that gives it universal appeal. For centuries artists have recognised and utilised art's exceptional ability to convey stories. The use of painting, sculpture, and architecture in rendering religious anecdotes accessible to many is perhaps the most obvious and enduring illustration of art's capacity to express stories. The works I have chosen to discuss all communicate stories involving intimate glimpses into individuals and their relationships with others. For me, the human element in art is the most interesting and profound. In this paper, I will discuss Paul Gauguin's Nevermore, Edouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, and The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh. These pieces are not related in any coherent way, but the ambiguous narratives with their many possible interpretations greatly appeal to me.
Nevermore is an intriguing piece by Gauguin housed in the Courtauld Gallery in London. Gauguin completed the painting in 1897 during his self-imposed exile in Tahiti. The work is oil on canvas and measures 59.5 x 116cm, making it a monumental nude and characteristic of his late work (Walther, pg. 73-5). The large scale, expressive colours, thick, flat forms, and overt symbolic content make Nevermore a very powerful piece.
Initially the painting seems to be an idyllic Polynesian scene, yet a closer look reveals palpable tension and uneasiness. The reclining nude woman, rather than exuding effortless serenity or erotic sexuality, seems apprehensive and troubled. The turn of her eyes implies that she is aware of the two clothed figures in the background. The sinister figures appear to be having a private conversation, which the woman seems interested in. I assume the woman is feigning sleep so as not to attract attention while straining to eavesdrop. Nonetheless, it is apparent she is disturbed by their foreboding presence and is listening intently to their secretive discussion.