Gauguin Two Tahitian Women

Gauguin’s Two Tahitian Women 1899

courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

When looking at one of Gauguin’s paintings of Tahiti it is easy to see why people think he was responsible for creating the myth of a paradise on earth. Not true! The idea had existed for over a century before Gauguin set foot on the island. The first European to land there was (by common consent) an English sea captain called Samuel Wallis in 1767. The following year the French admiral and explorer Louis-Antoine de Bourgainville arrived. He was so struck by the idyllic location inhabited by contented, good-natured people, uncorrupted (as he saw it) by civilisation, that he described it as the New Cythera (in Ancient Greece the island of Kythira was associated with Aphrodite, Goddess of Love). His description of Tahiti in these terms, first published in Voyage autour du monde in 1771, began the legend that Gauguin was to engage with so powerfully, exactly 120 years later. And Gauguin wasn’t the first artist to go to Tahiti. Take a look at this painting by William Hodges, the official artist on Captain James Cook’s second voyage to the South Pacific from 1772-5.

William Hodges Tahiti Revisited

Before Gauguin: William Hodges painting Tahiti Revisited 1776

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Note the naked women on the lower right, perhaps underscoring the island’s reputation for sensual pleasures, and the carved idol denoting pagan worship, both important themes in Gauguin’s work. But if Hodges’s painting represents ‘Paradise found’, does Gauguin’s represent ‘Paradise lost’?

Comments

mpgovernale

I went yesterday (28.12.10) with my daughter (12), it was overcrowded and lacked air. Something wrong with the air conditioning? I felt as if my head was too heavy (never had that before) and she felt unwell. We had to rush through. What a shame!

provides access

Thanks for this video...I have been brain storming for something just like this and thanks to you I have what I was looking for and not all those spam looking links that make you want to click them just to see what they lead too...my pet peave.

Tricia E. Bratton

I visited the exhibit today and was very impressed. It was crowded but not impossible to get through, and I appreciated learning about his earlier works of the Breton people, and also understanding his religious themes and their origin. Most people know Gauguin only by his Tahiti works and I was happy to learn of his other work. I also appreciated the rooms that illuminated his letters and chronology.

Alan B

I visited between 14:30 and 17:30 on Saturday and the crowding was not too bad, but I agree that the labels were very difficult to find, let alone read the tiny font. Sometimes the label was on the left, sometimes the right and in many cases at the end of a row of pictures. On one wall the drawings were actually numbered, but they were all jumbled up so that you had to repeatedly walk back and forth to the labels. Very annoying, and really spoilt my enjoyment of the art.

It's all very well if you already know what the works are, but if you want to be educated, it makes the experience less enjoyable. Since the presentation tries to be thematic, you do need to know the date of each work and so on. Having paid Thirteen Pounds fifty to get in, is it too much to be told what the works are?

James O

Visited at 1500 on 12th November. It's a bit busy isn't it. I don't think the theme made any sense. I was confused by the out of chronology paintings and kept wanting to see when they were painted. Not easy because of the size of the labels !!!! I would have preferred them hung in context of location and time and this would have made more sense to me. The chronology of his life is fascinating and I enjoyed that bit. Found it hard to navigate the space. You just sell too many tickets at a time to make it that enjoyable. It's hard work going round and this detracts from what otherwise is a great collection of his work. Badly organised but good to see so much Gaugin.

Ro

Visited yesterday at 11:30 and it was packed. All the labelling was at waist height in very small font that was beginning to peel off the wall. Why, why, why do all exhibitions do this - it being particularly bad at Gauguin? Surely the curator must consider there being at least 50 short sighted people in each room before organising the labelling? A row of 10 postcards with the small description at one end demanded a good memory or some fancy footwork. Overall Gauguin came across as an unpleasant man with a mediocre talent for drawing but a good eye for composition and colour. I would hestitiate a long time before suggesting anyone should visit this exhibition

mike harvey

Wonderful exhibition - congratulations. I would personally have found a chronological sequence of pictures more interesting than the thematic one. I think previous criticism of the labeling is justified (some labels must be 10 to 12 feet from the object they describe).

However, wonderful pictures from a man who, after a hundred years is something of a myth himself. He has left behind him an enduring source of pleasure for many, many people and in my case, additionally, a slight, lingering repugnance for the pain that his irresponsible artistic ego seemed to allow him to inflict on a few of his contemporaries. Does the former mitigate the latter? There is a fence over there. I will go and sit on it. MH

mike harvey

Wonderful exhibiton. I would personally have found a chronological sequence of pictures more interesting than thematic. I think the previous criticism of the labeling is justified and some labels must be 10 or 12 feet away from the object they describe. (Hunt the label)

However, wonderful pictures from a man who, after a hundred years, is something of a myth himself. He has left behind an enduring source of pleasure for many and for me a slight, lingering repugnance for the pain that his irresponsible artistic ego allowed him to inflict on a few others. Does the former mitigate the latter? There is a fence over there. I will go and sit on it. MH

Tom Davies

Is The Tate Mythmaking? I found the exhibition very stimulating, but I also wondered why the exhibition seemed to emphasise the heterosexual side of his rather complex sexuality. His rather disturbing series of paintings of naked young Brittany men and boys were not really referred to; his passionate relationship with Van Goch was hardly mentioned; his long relationship with a young man in Tahiti, again a footnote. He did famously characterise himself as a "woman"; I may have missed a reference to that in the salon on the symbolisms of femininity. (In such a huge and complex exhibition, it was possible to miss a lot of course). There is another myth. Perhaps rather fatuously symbolised by the cruise liner Paul Gauguin being famous for gay holidays in Tahiti! However, the real Gauguin was surely a person of warring sexualities, which add a different dimension to understanding his art.

Katia

The Gauguin made me feel inspired as if i found an answer to a question that bothered me for some time.But it also left me feeling very. I have never seen so many of his works at the same time, only one or two in museum collections- sensual, vibriant, mysterious.Unlike Van Gogh, the other 'mad'genius of the time, who expressed himself through bold colours and crazy brush strokes, painting landscapes in Arles as he saw them from the windows of his room in the mental hospital, Gauguin abandoned his family and career to travel to the other side of the world in search of Paradise. What did he find on Tahiti? That the locals had already been colonised , had French governors in place, were converted to Catholicism by the missionaries, and they had to pay taxes.So Gauguin had to create his own myth of Paradise lost, planting his own wooden idols of Pagan gods(which he made himself earlier in a true Blue Peter fashion)into his paintings. Maker of myth? More like a fabricator of myth! And yet, his paintings are so painfully beautiful,moving, rich and generous in colour,and even more so, when you realise that world he is trying to depict exists only in his head. So, if you ,like me, find Gauguin's paintings symbolic and mysterious, think twice before coming to the exhibition. You might not find the Paradise. You might find that your Illusion is lost.

Sally Holtermann

I visited on Monday 8th Nov at 10.30 and it was crowded but not too bad. A serious problem was that the labels were too small to read without being really close, and they weren't always beside the relevant picture. Some were in corners and you couldn't get close enough to read them without getting in someone's way. Some labels didn't seem to have pictures. The rooms on Life and Times were crowded, and I also, first time through, missed the wallboard showing the chronology of the early years. It became very hot. The day before I'd seen Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes at the V&A, which is brilliantly curated - varied and imaginative in presentation. I'm afraid the Guaguin seemed very conventional in comparison, but it was still great.

Lightdragoon

The Hodges is great - strikes me that there are shades of Claude Lorraine and Richard Wilson going on there. But then the figures seem a little more "pasted in" than the figues in a Claude. Have we had a Tahitian/ south seas 'paradise' exhibition? Could be very interesting to show how western art interpreted it over the years.

Karsten Moock

Gauguin and the myth of Tahiti | Tate Blog http://t.co/60ugTmD via @tate Wonderful paintings of course and all credit to the Tate for bringing them to London, but I found the labeling difficult to read. The font is very small for those whose eye sight might have been better once. It also is not always quite clear in advance which label belongs to which picture. Both easy to improve upon.

I also wondered why there is no information on Gauguin's early life, in which for instance he lost his father when aged 3, when the family was relocating to Lima. Chile. I can't even find any information on his upbringing or training in the big catalogue. Pity. Still, a brilliant collection of pictures.

Shimi

I went on Sunday 7th Nov in the afternoon.

As a novice to Gaugine works, I find the thematic arrangements easy to follow and give a good synopsis of his entire life work at a glance. It took me 3 hours to view them all and fascinated by his multi-talent as an artist. Definitely his signature art is the way he blend the colours to show the mood of the moment (perhaps) and contrasting impressions to encourage discussions on the story behind that painting / object he made. Some of his personalities as an adventurer, deep thinker, philosophical and intellectual were prominent from his work. As for the way he lived his life, I could not possibly comment. After all we are here to admire his artistic qualities, not judging him as a human being.

Rachel Bentham

I was concerned by the rather too easy analysis of Gauguin as depicting women within the christian madonna/whore dichotomy. On the contrary, I felt that many of his female figures revealed a distinctive aspect of Tahitian life that has nothing to do with Christian motifs and all to do with the polynesian spiritual 'system', Huna. These are the figures depicted in a state of melancholy, or as he himself noted - able to sit and contemplate for hours, days... I believe these women are feeling 'fiu' - a state of unhappiness that may or may not be ill defined, but to which one simply gives in. Polynesians will take time off work because they're 'fiu'. If one gives in to such feelings and ALLOWS them fully, they can wash through and pass away far more effectively than if bottled up or denied (as we're more likely to do in the West). Perhaps Gauguin didn't fully understand this notion or type of behaviour, or perhaps he did - anyway it seems to me, form the paintings, that he understood emotionally. his subjects no doubt had many good reasons to feel fiu given the process of material and spiritual colonisation they were undergoing, as well as the ongoing attrition caused by European diseases. Populations in many islands were reduced by a third or far more, kahunas (holders of spiritual secrets)died and/or hid their knowledge, while settlers and visitors continued to ignore and/or dismiss polynesian beliefs. There is evidence that Gauguin enquired about some aspects of Tahitian belief. We cannot really assume that he simply laid a Christian sensibility over everything he saw and experienced, can we? Is this exhibition assuming that? I suspect it's far more likely that there are many layers to his personal and cultural interactions. Yes, there could have been far more exploration of his engagement with Tahitian life. Perhaps the curator could have found out more about Tahiti, and made mention of the other side of the colonial gaze! Were any Tahitians consulted?

Robert Taylor

I enjoyed the exhibition and it was great to see so many of PG's great works of art together. I would have preferred to the paintings to be aranged chronologically rather than by themes as it makes it easier to appreciate his development. The captions by the pictures needs to be larger to read.

Jem Bateman

A wonderful exhibition and a real eye-opener to me as I was not too familiar with his work. A couple of annoying points though:

The labels were too small, too low and, sometimes, not even close to the exhibits. Why not put them at eye-level and make them clear enough for people to read whilst they are waiting to shuffle up to the front to see the paintings? Having to bend over and peer at them in a crowded room was a real pain.

Why were schoolchildren allowed to sit on the floor to sketch, in front of the most popular paintings - right where people most wanted to stand to look at them?

emma

I was disappointed with the lack of critical analysis of Gauguin's engagement with life in Tahiti as he lived there for several years and yet the commentary on what he was portraying was very superficial. I also question the translation of some of the Tahitian titles. It seemed to me very literal and therefore in some cases incorrect. Haere mai generally means welcome in related languages which is subtlely but importantly different that "Come Here" which is what the painting title was stated to mean.

Pat Lacroix

I visited the Gauguin exhibition yesterday (13th November) and loved it. Most of all, I enjoyed the Tahiti paintings as they were so sensual and exuded the luxuriant colours and nuances of the tropics. However, what I enjoyed most was getting a feeling of what Gauguin was like as a personality. I came away feeling that he was in many ways very revolutionary and bohemiene, probably an insufferable egotist, and yet used his talent as an artist as a way to shake of the shackles of convention and respectability. I loved his carvings, an aspect of Gauguin that was new to me. I loved that he loved the primitive. As always, I enjoyed my visit to the Tate.

Emmanuelle

Coming from France, I booked my ticket on line and it was really convenient. The café was crowded and no much information about the surroudings. I enjoyed this exhibition organized by themes but few regrets about the way it's shown. It looks poor, nothing to help the visitor understanding Gauguin's universe. Even if we have had a french translation. Nothing either for children. It is so surprising for a such important museum. Sure I will hesitate for a next visit.

John Harding

We came oin Saturday afternoon and it was so crowded. Our slot was 4.30 but we were let in early. Every painting was surrounded by a multitude of people and we felt it was not lit well enough. As there were so many people we could not see the signs and we saw the exhibition in the wrong order. Another point, the toilet facilities on the ground floor were inadequate and there were huge queues. The paintings from the Tahiti part of his life were spectacular and showed how he enjoyed this exotic world. Shame it was so crowded.

Rachel Bentham

As I'm writing a novel set in Tahiti in 1846, I've visited there and studied Tahitian beliefs in some depth. I was concerned by the rather too easy analysis of Gauguin as depicting women within the christian madonna/whore dichotomy. On the contrary, I felt that many of his female figures revealed a distinctive aspect of Tahitian life that has nothing to do with Christian motifs and all to do with the polynesian spiritual 'system', Huna. These are the figures depicted in a state of melancholy, or as he himself noted - able to sit and contemplate for hours, days... I believe these women are feeling 'fiu' - a state of unhappiness that may or may not be ill defined, but to which one simply gives in. Polynesians will take time off work because they're 'fiu'. If one gives in to such feelings and ALLOWS them fully, they can wash through and pass away far more effectively than if bottled up or denied (as we're more likely to do in the West). Perhaps Gauguin didn't fully understand this notion or type of behaviour, or perhaps he did - anyway it seems to me, from the paintings, that he understood emotionally. his subjects no doubt had many good reasons to feel fiu given the process of material and spiritual colonisation they were undergoing, as well as the ongoing attrition caused by European diseases. Populations in many islands were reduced by a third or far more, kahunas (holders of spiritual secrets)died and/or hid their knowledge, while settlers and visitors continued to ignore and/or dismiss polynesian beliefs. There is evidence that Gauguin enquired about some aspects of Tahitian belief. We cannot really assume that he simply laid a Christian sensibility over everything he saw and experienced, can we? Is this exhibition assuming that? I suspect it's far more likely that there are many layers to his personal and cultural interactions. Yes, there could have been far more exploration of his engagement with Tahitian life. Perhaps the curator could have found out more about Tahiti, and made mention of the other side of the colonial gaze! Were any Tahitians consulted?

Jervis

We were disappointed with some aspects of this exhibition. The colours in the paintings were not as bright and intense as in the book "Gauguin Maker of Myth". Most seemed quite dull. Could this have been due to the lighting?

The writing on the labels should be much larger to make them easily readable at normal viewing distance, and should accompany the picture under description.

The introductions on the walls should be in bold font to make them easy to read.

It would have been helpful to have an indication of which way to go round the rooms to see the paintings in the intended order.

I wonder why some of the paintings were missing? There were labels without accompanying paintings.

I think that Gauguin could not draw or paint very well, and this explains his style. I do not think he was a good draftsman and painter, who developed this style deliberately.

The previous week, we had visited the Monet exhibition in Paris. 175 colourful paintings were very well displayed, and the exhibition was much more enjoyable.

Still, it was rewarding to be able to view so many Gauguin's together.