Lot 383
  • 383

Paul Gauguin

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
1,370,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Paul Gauguin
  • Tahitiennes
  • signed P Gauguin (lower left)
  • oil on canvas


Private Collection, Germany
Thence by descent to the present owners

Catalogue Note

'I am leaving in order to find peace and quiet, to be rid of the influence of civilisation. I only want to make simple, very simple art, and to be able to do that, I have to re-immerse myself in virgin nature, see no one but savages, live their life, with no other thought in mind but to render, the way a child would, the concepts formed in my brain and to do this with the aid of nothing but the primitive means of art, the only means that are good and true.'
- Gauguin interviewed by Jules Huret, l’Echo de Paris, 1891

Many artists from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, from the Symbolists to the Fauves and Expressionists, embarked upon voyages of discovery in their quest for the exotic and the new; however no-one ventured further than Paul Gauguin in the pursuit of these ideals. Gauguin arrived in Tahiti on 9thJune 1891. His work in the years that followed epitomised the artist’s fascination with his idyllic surroundings, and represented the pinnacle of his life-long search for the primitive. Attracted by the freedom, wilderness and simplicity of this remote place in the South Seas far removed from the western world, Gauguin produced works in which the fluidity and expressiveness of the brushstrokes reflect his sense of artistic liberation. His iconic representations of Tahitian women going about their daily lives amidst the splendour of the tropics are amongst the most sensually beautiful images in all of western art, instantly recognisable, and always fused with a voyeuristic eroticism.

Emblematic of his work from the early part of his first stay in the Pacific, Tahitiennes depicts two female figures in an outdoor setting, its strong, dynamic palette demonstrating the artist’s enchantment with the warm, lush colours of the sun drenched island; the rich tones of the women’s dark skin contrasting with the gold, orange and blue hues of the background. The composition conjures the atmosphere of languor characteristic of the tropics; each figure has her own space, the seated vahine in the background with flowers in her hair is shown in meditative pose beneath the shade of a palm tree while the principle figure appears to walk away slowly with a melancholy air. The silent tension between the two figures lends the picture an enigmatic, mysterious quality, heightened by the almost supernatural phosphorescent light illuminating the beach.

Although the young women in Tahitiennes have not been identified, Gauguin was romantically involved at the time with a local girl named Tehura, who frequently posed for him. To Gauguin's western contemporaries, these robust, voluptuous women were assumed to be sexually permissive, but in actuality the artist was surprised how reserved they were in comparison with the women he knew in France.  In fact, it is well documented that Gauguin was at first disillusioned by just how 'un-exotic' his surroundings were.  When he arrived in Papeete in 1891 he was faced with the same European-imposed customs and laws that he had left back in France, and decided to leave the capital city for Mataiea. His pictures, however, show nothing of how directly colonialism had impacted the Tahitian people; instead he presents us with a highly idealised version of a timeless paradise, untouched by western influence. In his many letters and journals home, Gauguin described the sensual pleasures of the South Pacific, with its floral-scented air and available young women: 'I returned to my work and bliss followed upon bliss. Every day when the sun rose, shining light filled my home. The gold from Tehura's face shone all around […] just as though we were in Paradise' (quoted in Eckhard Hollman, Paul Gauguin, Images from the South Seas, New York, 1996, p. 26).