Tahitian Woman with a Flower is an 1891 painting in the Post-Impressionist style by the leading French artist Paul Gauguin. This work is located in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Analysis of Gauguin’s Woman with a Flower
Paul Gauguin might be one of the most controversial artists which is a hard title to gain as it can be said about many artists of the past and present. His art might be the most controversial as his art is impossible to separate from his actions as they are almost the same. The art that brings controversy most is his Tahitian paintings.
In many of these paintings, the model was Gauguin’s fourteen-year-old wife named Tehamana, such as Merahi metua no Tehamana. In Woman with a flower (1891), it is not of his teenage bride but a neighbor. He wrote the event in his journal, Noa Noa, as follows, “In order to familiarize myself with the distinctive characteristics of the Tahitian face, I had wished for a long time to make a portrait of one of my neighbors, a young woman of pure Tahitian extraction. While she was curiously examining certain religious compositions of the Italian primitives, I hastened, without her noticing it, to sketch her portrait. She saw it, and with a pout cried out abruptly, ‘A ita!’ (no) and fled.”
This sketch was taken without the woman’s permission and her reaction could be shocked from this. Gauguin’s description of the woman was, “She was not pretty-at least not by European standards-but beautiful.” She is posed and dressed in the European tradition of portraiture. This choice could have happened because he only had the sketch of her face and used memory of renaissance portraits for the body.
Gauguin’s love for “primitive” art might have stemmed from his past. His father, Clovis Gauguin, was a journalist and his mother, Alina Maria Chazal, was a proto-socialist leader. Because of the dangerous political climate in France, they moved to Peru. In Peru, Gauguin’s mother would collect Pre-Columbian pottery. Artwork that most colonists thought was barbaric. His mother would also dress in the traditional Preuvian Dress while in Peru.
Paul Guguin would leave for Tahiti from Paris to escape European civilization – and his wife and children. Perhaps, he saw himself as his father. He was disappointed upon arrival by the fact that most of Tahiti were colonized by the Europeans and there was little left of the ‘primative’ paridise he desired. Most of the people dressed in a European style and converted to Christianity.
The journal, Noa Noa, was meant to be a companion with debut back to Paris from Tahiti. He felt that the Parisian art world would not understand the paintings and needed context behind them. This journal however was not finished by the time the exhibition opened. The journal also includes woodcuts of Tahitian women by Gauguin. The name, Noa Noa, refers to the smell of the Tahitian women’s perfume. This solidifies Gauguin’s intentions for his Tahitian paintings, that this exhibit was about his sexual appetite. Gauguin would later go back to Tahiti to never return to France.
It was here that Guguin got into legal trouble by siding with the natives against the French colonialists. He was fined and sentenced to a month in prison. By that time his health was severely in decline and was using morphine for the pain. He would die in French Polynesia by overdosing on morphine before the prison sentence began.