Paul Gauguin came to art late in life, abandoning his career as a stockbroker to paint in 1880’s Paris alongside the Impressionists. It was not long, though, before his romantic vision led him to Brittany, then Panama and eventually French Polynesia, where he sought uncorrupted sources of inspiration. Repulsed by urban civilization, he longed for an idyllic paradise, which he found in Tahiti. Gauguin set sail for Tahiti in 1891, where he spent the next two years visually recording the people of the island and their vibrant landscape. Upon his return to France in 1893, he translated his sketches into dynamic woodcuts, eager to share visions of his beloved spiritual home with his Parisian audience.

From Pont-Aven and Paris he tirelessly experimented with woodblocks, exploring the affects of broad cutting against fine lines. He often added colour in the manner of a monotype, or by hand or transfer paper. By removing some mechanical aspects of the printing process, he perhaps felt closer to “uncorrupted culture” and was able to achieve a unique sense of atmosphere and immediacy. Recalling his Tahitian sojourn, the used his newfound skills to create a series of colour-saturated woodcuts for his travel journal, known as Noa Noa.

While working on Noa Noa, Gauguin simultaneously printed small-scale and intimate woodcuts inspired by the mythology of the island. One of only nine known impressions, this painterly example of the rare Idole Tahitienne is a striking portrayal of Hina, the moon goddess. Gauguin approached each impression of Idole Tahitienne in a unique fashion, employing various colour blocks or oils that imbue each iteration of Hina with a distinct sense of power. The present impression, printed in black with terracotta and brown applied in the manner of a monotype, emphasizes the goddess’s fiery strength and conviction.