He considered it to be his masterpiece and the culmination of his life’s work. He said, “I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all my preceding ones but that I shall never do anything better—or even like it."
He had left France in 1891 in search of a simpler civilisation that would allow him to see into the mysteries of existence and free him completely from all the constraints of bourgeois life; he left behind not only his career as a banker but also a wife and five children.
However things did not run smoothly; he found that life in Tahiti was not as simple as he had hoped, he ran into financial difficulties and his favourite daughter died back in France.
He fell into despair and resolved to kill himself but only after completing one last picture which would be a testament to his life and beliefs and art: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going.
It is a mythic construction, an insight into an unparalleled imaginative world. The first group of three women and a child represents the beginning of life, the central group life being lived, and the third group the approach of death.
The old woman is, according to Gauguin, “reconciled and resigned to her thoughts"; at her feet, "a strange white bird represents the futility of words."
The blue idol represents the “beyond.” Gauguin was not looking to create a realistic representation of life in Tahiti. His search was for meaning that lay behind the physical, using the sensuality of the environment as a window into a mythology.
Gauguin talked about “the music of painting.” His use of flat planes of colour, inspired by Japanese prints, and the golds and browns of bodies set against the blues and greens of tropical foliage opens up a mythical world leading to a meditation on the meaning of life.