Paul Gauguin

Faa Iheihe


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Paul Gauguin 1848–1903
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 540 × 1695 mm
frame: 700 × 1855 × 95 mm
Presented by Lord Duveen 1919

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'Faa Iheihe' was painted in Tahiti, where Gauguin spent his last years. It seems to represent an earthly paradise of men and women in harmony with nature. Indeed, it has sometimes been subtitled 'Tahitian Pastoral'. Gauguin found great inspiration in Tahiti, and wrote in 1898, 'Each day - my latest important paintings attest to this - I realise that I have not yet said all there is to say here in Tahiti ... whereas in France, with all the disgust I feel there, my brain would probably be sterile; the cold freezes me both physically and mentally, and everything becomes ugly to my eyes.' 'Faa Iheihe' may mean in Tahitian 'to beautify'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Paul Gauguin 1848-1903

N03470 Faa Iheihe 1898

Inscribed 'FAA IHEIHE | Paul Gauguin | 1898' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 66 3/4 (54 x 169.5)
Presented by Lord Duveen 1919
Prov: Maurice Fabre, Aude, c,.1903; with Ambroise Vollard, Paris; Lord Duveen, London, 1919
Exh: Exposition des Peintres Impressionnistes, Libre Esthétique, Brussels, February-March 1904 (54), lent by M. Fabre; Salon d'Automne, Paris, October-November 1906 (Gauguin 161); Oeuvres de Paul Gauguin, Galerie A. Vollard, Paris, April-May 1909 (works not numbered) as 'Panneau Décoratif (1898)'; International Exhibition of Modern Art (The Armory Show), New York, February-March 1913 (173); Art Institute of Chicago, March-April 1913 (136); Copley Hall, Boston, April-May 1913 (53); Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, February-December 1915 (Fine Arts: French section 34), as 'Frieze' lent by Vollard; Founder's Day Exhibition. French Paintings from the Museum of the Luxembourg, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, April-June 1916 (32); Canadian National Exhibition: Department of Fine Arts, Toronto, August-September 1916 (117); French and Belgian Art from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Detroit Museum of Arts, October 1916 (106); French and Belgian Art from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Toledo Museum of Art, November 1916 (106); The Art of France and Belgium from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Brooklyn Museum, New York, February-March 1918 (32); Paul Gauguin: Paintings, Engravings and Sculpture, RSA, Edinburgh, August-September 1955 (57); Tate Gallery, September-October 1955 (57); Paul Gauguin, Haus der Kunst, Munich, April-May 1960 (70); Paul Gauguin 1848-1903, Belvedere, Vienna, June-July 1960 (42); Gauguin i Söderhavet, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, March-May 1970 (52, repr.)
Lit: Bernard Dorival, 'Sources of the Art of Gauguin from Java, Egypt and Ancient Greece' in Burlington Magazine, XCIII, 1951, pp.118-21, detail repr. p.119; Robert Goldwater, Paul Gauguin (London 1957), p.150, repr. in colour opposite p.151; Georges Wildenstein (ed.), Gauguin: sa Vie, son Oeuvre (Paris 1958), pp.127-61, repr. pp.134-5; Bernard Dorival, Gauguin (Paris 1960), p.77; Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin (Paris 1964), No.569, Vol.1, pp.237-8, repr. p.238; Bengt Danielsson, 'Gauguin's Tahitian Titles' in Burlington Magazine, CIX, 1967, p.230
Repr: Arts and Decoration, III, March 1913, p.164

Bengt Danielsson, loc. cit., writes of the title 'Faa Iheihe': 'No such word exists in the Tahitian language. Gauguin has this time mistaken two glottal stops for h-sounds. In reality, the word he heard was doubtless fa'ai'ei'e which means To beautify, adorn, embellish. The sort of beautification the word usually denotes is the effort a man or woman makes to be more attractive, before going to a date or ball, by putting on his or her best clothes, combing the hair, perfuming him- or herself, etc.' L.-J. Bouge has suggested (in Gauguin: sa Vie, son Oeuvre, 1958, p.161) that the inscription should read 'Faa Ineine' (Preparations for a Festival), Gauguin's writing being at fault, but the two H's seem quite unmistakable.

In its format this picture resembles 'D'où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?' (Boston Museum of Fine Arts), on which he was working at the end of 1897. Preoccupied with thoughts of suicide, Gauguin painted 'D'où venons-nous?' as a last great picture, an allegory of life and death, before attempting to kill himself with poison. 'Faa Iheihe' was painted in all probability in February or March and in mood is profoundly different: his interest in life is revived and the painting, turned towards the future, bears the mark of a great calm and serenity. Georges Wildenstein, who underlines the importance of these two works in terms of Gauguin's development, has pointed out that they mark the end of one phase and the beginning of another. Almost all the works associated with 'D'où venons-nous?' are earlier than 1898, and almost all the works connected with 'Faa Iheihe' are later than 1898. As was often Gauguin's practice, more or less the same figures and poses appear again in other pictures. The one most closely related to the present work is 'Rupe Rupe' of 1899 (The Hermitage, Leningrad), in which the three women on the left and the horseman reappear, slightly modified; the middle section has been omitted.

Like various of Gauguin's other paintings from 1891 onwards, 'Faa Iheihe' shows the influence of Javanese sculptured friezes: this appears not only in the frieze-like conception, but in the attitude of certain figures such as the woman at the centre with the palm of her hand raised between her breasts. Two photographs of details from the decoration of the Javanese temple of Bârâboudour were found in Gauguin's hut at the time of his death. On the other hand, the dog was adapted from one in a painting by Courbet which had belonged to his guardian Gustave Arosa.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.270-1, reproduced p.270

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