I have always enjoyed Gauguin's work most for the interplay between naturalistic and primal imagery.
Here, a woman in the foreground sits on a blanket of what seems to be yellow stones or mounds of sand gouged out of black shadows. These pocks of light are rendered spontaneously, some spilling into each other, some crossed with thin, vertical lines suggestive of grass. They read as a teeming, organic mass that wraps not only around the landscape of the subject matter, but also conforms to the composition of the rectangular image. The way the yellow land is depicted is in stark contrast to the lighting on the woman's shoulders and face, which are much more carefully rendered. The woman in the background better matches the more abstract ground. She is mostly flat; only rough streaks of black on peach give the suggestion of light and shadow around her form.
The lighting in this image is harsh, and so many details slip into shadows: the center of the first woman's body, one of the second woman's hands, and countless elements in the black of the river. I'm not sure which is more mysterious, the black itself, or the strange blobs, scratches, and splotches that emerge from it. The first woman is turned away from it, in toward herself, contemplative and still. The other woman not only faces the black, but arms raised and tilted, seems about to jump in. It is as if when in action people become more abstract and part of the landscape, and only when we are still and reflective do we come to be concrete, but also more detached from the world.