I first saw the famous work by Gauguin D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous in its home at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, fifty four years ago. It was painted sixty three years before that. And of course, humans of every tribe on earth (including the pre-Socratics in Ancient Greece) asked the same questions thousands of years before Gauguin scrawled these words across the corner of his painting. If ever words could be considered cliched, you would think it would be these. Yet they still strike the same chord in the human heart, that they have always done.
When I first glimpsed this family group . . . these dogs . . . this Canadian beach . . . the woods behind, the young woman’s hands were raised above her head as if drawing down fruit from above, like the young South Sea Islander in the centre of Gauguin’s painting. Perhaps this was the mental connection that brought to my mind the three philosophical questions focused on identity and destiny.
The philosophical moment passed quickly as I realized that the family, arms all akimbo, had become aware of my approach. I raised my Canon point-and-click as if to photograph the dogs, then asked about the breed of the black one with the question mark tail. As I moved on down the beach, a Monarch butterfly, now increasingly rare - indeed perhaps endangered, lit on the sand before me, and my thoughts turned back to the question: Where are we going?
The sign read: Swimming is prohibited due to dangerous undertow.
This lonely Monarch waited while I fiddled with the camera, then opened his wings for one moment before flitting away.
Ipad on the beach (Lake Ontario).