There’s been some fascinating comments on this blog in response to Nevermore O Tahiti and its potential meanings. Reading the comments through I was reminded of an edition of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1902) with ‘you know who’ on the front cover.  

Gauguin book cover for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Book cover for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness with a detail of Gauguin's Self-portrait with portrait of Bernard (Les Misérables)

It’s a detail from Self-portrait with portrait of Bernard (Les Misérables)  from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It was painted in 1888, so well before Gauguin’s first journey to Tahiti, but after his trip to Panama and Martinique in 1887. Van Gogh, who saw the painting, thought the shadows on Gauguin’s face made him look ‘despondent’. Funny how that sense of melancholy seems to evaporate when juxtaposed with a title like  ‘Heart of Darkness’ - especially if you have even an inkling of what Conrad’s novella is about. What do you think?



Very true! Its association with Heart of Darkness gives a sense of menace to Gauguin's expression, doesn't it? He appears almost a Kurtz-like figure, especially with the juxtaposition of the dark colours of his face against the bright background. The white flowers in the background are suggestive of colonialism, and the figure's being in shadow suggests how Conrad's characters (Kurtz being a prime example, though Marlowe is also somewhat implicated) have become enmeshed in "darkness." Very interesting cover!


A good picture for a book cover with this title. He looks as if he has a dark secret.


Not sure if he looks despondant, but the direction of his gaze is intriguing. I wonder what date this edition of the book is? Why did they pick this picture? Does Conrad's description of Kurtz or Marlow match the look of Gaugin? Interesting that he paints the floral wallpaper behind which perhaps attracts the eye, rather than choosing a plain background. Has this reprodution taken any liberties with the colour balance? And has it been cropped to fit the cover?


A fabulous choice for the book. The menacing look of Gauguin, which depicts the character of Kurtz so well, and the gentler portrait of Bernard, fits that of Marlow so well.

Christine Riding

Hi Light Dragoon (you don't belong to any reenactment societies, do you?) Interestingly, Gauguin depicted the flowers on the wallpaper to denote the purity and creativity of the artist, which is certainly at odds with his brooding face...or is Gauguin saying that the role of the artist necessarily means a tortured existance (or is that baloney?) I do wonder how much effort went into chosing the image for the story...perhaps not much...perhaps everthing...