The concept behind Paul Gaugin's 'Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?' is the progression of life. When viewed from right to left the viewer follows the human development from early childhood, through adolescence, adulthood, and eventually the elderly on the verge of death. One of the interesting things that one can't quite distinguish from the picture, however, is that each figure is looking as the viewer. It's as though the people starring at you cause you to reflect upon yourself and the relationship between your stage of life and the painting.
The bright yellows draw the viewers eyes and highlights the more impassioned stages of life. However, the intensity can mask some of the more subtle parts of the piece. While not very discernible in the attached photo, in the background on the right the stage in which the couple is content with each other and at peace. The dull pink shade blends into the background and, like in life, is indistinct when next to times of passion and distress. It also seems that the shade of yellow correlates with how intense the stage of life is. On the far left, Gaugin shows a woman who has accepted death and thus she is the most at peace and the darkest figure present.
The backdrop of the piece is fairly intricate, though it is painted with cool colors to help bring out the points the artist wanted viewers to focus on. The landscape that's depicted contains a variety of things one would find on an island. In this case, the artist assembled the background in order to add to the ethereal, almost magical atmosphere, rather than to depict an actual island scene.