Painting Tahiti's Women for Paris


December 10, 2015, 6:30 pm

Paul Gauguin's first sojourn to Tahiti (1891-1893) resulted in some 40 iconic canvases of Tahitian life that were intended for Parisian exhibition and sale. Key among these is the intensely-colored study of two women, NAFEA faiaipoipo (When Will You Marry?) of 1892, a canvas that recently claimed the status of being the most expensive work of art ever sold and is featured in Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland.

In this lecture, Elizabeth C. Childs, Etta and Mark Steinberg Professor of Art History at Washington University in St. Louis, examines Gauguin’s canvas in the context of the artist's prolific engagement with both the mythic idea and the social reality of the Tahitian vahine (young women) of colonial Tahiti. The painting ultimately reveals both the artist’s ambivalence in his relationship to the colonial world and the complexity of his position as an avant-garde artist who chose to live and work between two distinct worlds, the Polynesian and the Parisian.