Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)

ArtistPaul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903)
MediumOil on coarse fabric
Dimensions45.1 × 74.3 cm (17 34 × 29 14 in.)
Accession Number2008.5
Cite This Page View in Collection Open in new window Open Cite Info

Gauguin’s haunting Arii Matamoe, painted in 1892, disrupts the familiar Tahitian idyll, the dream of a tranquil and sensual life in the tropics that had impelled the artist on his voyage to the other side of the globe just a few months before. 1 The painting is a grisly nature morte, presenting the severed head of a Polynesian male on a white cushion and low-lying table in the richly ornamented interior of a thatched hut. Garnished with bright red and yellow flowers and exhibiting the merest trace of blood on the pillow, the display is ritualistic, ceremonial. Attending the scene is a woman crouching along the back wall in a rigid attitude of despair. A spectral figure, obscured by a bamboo pole screen, lurks behind her, while a third figure surges outward, hand raised to mouth as if broadcasting the death to the bright world beyond, where a pair of quietly downcast figures have gathered. Carved tiki sculptures stand guard at the hut’s threshold, dividing the darkened sanctuary of the dead from the space of the living. Like the inscrutably melancholic et in arcadia ego resounding within the pastoral idylls of the Western classicizing tradition, two words have been inscribed on the room’s interior wall beneath twin skull motifs set within a geometric design itself suggestive of an enormous toothy death’s head: ARii MATAMOE.

Fig. 1. Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), page 59 of Noa Noa, ca. 1893–1901. Illustrated manuscript. Paris, Musée d’Orsay, inv. no. RF7259; on deposit with the Département des arts graphiques, Musée du Louvre.
Fig. 1. Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), page 59 of Noa Noa, ca. 1893–1901. Illustrated manuscript. Paris, Musée d’Orsay, inv. no. RF7259; on deposit with the Département des arts graphiques, Musée du Louvre. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay / Hervé Lewandowski

Despite its modest size, Arii Matamoe evidently held some signal importance to Gauguin, who included a photographic reproduction of it in his illustrated manuscript of Noa Noa, one of few such photographs (fig. 1).2 He also singled it out for description in an 1892 letter to his faithful correspondent Daniel de Monfreid:

I have just finished a severed kanak3 head nicely arranged on a white cushion in a palace of my invention and guarded by women also of my invention. I believe that it is a pretty piece of painting. It is not quite mine since I stole it from a pine board. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it, but there it is. One does what one can, and when marble or wood draws a head for you it’s very tempting to steal it.4

However true it may be that Gauguin’s pictorial reverie was spurred, in the tradition of Leonardo da Vinci, by the chance designs seen in a piece of wood, the composition of his final work was carefully premeditated: infrared reflectography has clearly revealed a detailed preliminary design (fig. 2).5 The painting, furthermore, is so overcharged with symbolic suggestion that his offhand reference to the picture as a “pretty piece of painting” seems rather disingenuous.

Fig. 2. Infrared reflectogram (2008) of Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), Arii Matamoe (The Royal End), 1892. Oil on coarse fabric, 45.1 x 74.3 cm (17 ¾ x 29 ¼ in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008.5
Fig. 2. Infrared reflectogram (2008) of Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), Arii Matamoe (The Royal End), 1892. Oil on coarse fabric, 45.1 x 74.3 cm (17 ¾ x 29 ¼ in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008.5

Take first the portentous Tahitian title. Arii refers to the high chiefs and upper nobility in traditional Tahitian society. These were the sacred leaders of the dominant lineages, which were traced back to various ancestor-deities. Matamoe is a compound of mata and moe, and it roughly translates as “sleeping / closed” (moe) “eyes / face” (mata). As Carol Ivory has emphasized in relation to Marquesan culture, the head was considered the most sacred part of the body. It was the site of one’s spiritual power, or mana, and, also, in the context of sacred representation, the locus of the power of one’s ancestors. The word mata was used frequently in connection to the face and eye motifs, which, as Gauguin himself remarked, were so pervasive in Marquesan carving and tattoos, as, for instance, in the earplug ornament whose design he adapted in the background of this painting (fig. 3).6 “Matamoe,” however, is a somewhat unusual word, and scholars have offered little explanation of its origins. Bengt Danielsson tentatively suggested that a Maori weapon from New Zealand with a design featuring a stylized head with closed eyes supposedly known as a “matamoe” may have been Gauguin’s source,7 but there is no proof that the artist ever encountered such an object in Tahiti, or indeed during his brief stop in New Zealand in 1895.8 A far more likely source for the word is Pierre Loti’s 1878 novel Le mariage de Loti, which is known to have profoundly shaped Gauguin’s preconceptions of Tahiti. At a climactic moment when the pseudo-autobiographical protagonist encounters the Tahitian widow of his late brother, we read: “‘You are Taimaha, Rueri’s wife?’ / ‘Yes,’ she said again, raising her head nonchalantly. ‘I am Taimaha, the wife of Rueri, the sailor with the sleeping eyes (mata moe)’—that is to say, who is no more. / ‘And I, I am Loti, Rueri’s brother.”9 Like Loti, Gauguin used the phrase as a poetic metaphor of death. Combined with arii, it indicates a noble or royal death, or, as the title was translated when the painting was exhibited in Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris in November 1893, la fin royale.10

Fig. 3. Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), detail from Studies of a Native Woman and Marquesan Ear Plug, 1891/93. Pen and ink and graphite on vellum, 24 x 31.7 cm. Art Institute of Chicago, inv. no. 1950.1413
Fig. 3. Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), detail from Studies of a Native Woman and Marquesan Ear Plug, 1891/93. Pen and ink and graphite on vellum, 24 x 31.7 cm. Art Institute of Chicago, inv. no. 1950.1413 CC0 Public Domain

Scholars have consequently argued that the painting alludes to the death of Tahiti’s last king, Pomare V, which happened just after Gauguin’s arrival on the island in 1891.11 As described in Noa Noa, the king’s death for the artist becomes emblematic of the death of traditional Tahitian culture as a whole in the face of European civilization and colonization:

With him disappeared the last vestiges of the ancient ways and grandeur. With him Maori [sic] tradition has died. It is truly finished. Civilization, alas! Triumphed—soldierly, commercial, and bureaucratic. A profound sadness has seized hold of me. To have traveled so far to find this, the very thing I was fleeing! The dream that led me to Tahiti was cruelly disappointed by the present: it is the Tahiti of long ago that I loved. And I could not resign myself to believing that all was lost, that this beautiful race had safeguarded nothing … of its old splendor. But the traces of this so distant and mysterious past, insofar as they still subsisted, how to discover them, alone, without guidance, without any support? To rediscover the extinguished hearth, to rekindle the fire in the midst of all these ashes … ?12

If one considers Arii Matamoe as an extension of this rueful meditation on the passing of a once noble and primitive society, what strikes us most is how the picture diverges in its particulars from Pomare’s actual funeral ceremonies, which were decidedly European in tone.13 For the lying-in-state, the king was graced with his white admiral’s uniform. A Protestant ceremony was held at the palace. In the funeral cortege, the colonials wore black in keeping with European custom. There was an elaborate triple casket, and classical mortuary iconography was abundantly evident (garlands, fringes, crowns, and the like). For Gauguin, the proceedings degenerated into travesty when the procession culminated at the royal family’s mausoleum:

[The governor] Lacascade made a clichéd speech that an interpreter then translated for the Maori in attendance. Then, the protestant pastor preached. Lastly, Lati, the brother of the widowed queen, responded. And that was it: everyone left, the colonial officials piled into the carts … all this was reminiscent of a return from the races. On the road … the indifference of the French set the tone [and] all these people, formerly so grave, began to laugh again.14

In connection with the funeral ceremonies Gauguin witnessed, Arii Matamoe does vaguely suggest a formal lying-in-state and the collective mourning of a dead monarch. But it is a death imagined without the European trappings, without the Western mourning and military garb, without the Church and the civil servants, without the disrespectful laughter and the casual indifference of the French. It presents a funerary rite “translated” back into an imagined, pre-colonial “Maori” idiom and infused with the nobility and gravity that Gauguin associated with the Tahiti of the distant past.

The historical circumstance of Pomare V’s death does not, however, begin to account for the detail of the severed head. Here, one might appeal to Gauguin’s amateur fascination with ancient Polynesian culture, stimulated by his reading of secondary sources like J.-A. Moerenhout’s Voyages aux îles du grand océan (1837), which he first encountered in March 1892. Mortuary cults involving decorated skulls, propitiatory sacrifices, warriors’ head trophies, and honorifically preserved Maori heads (moko mokai) have all been invoked as partial explanations for the severed head.15 Such readings are ultimately misleading, however, since Gauguin never pretended to be an artiste-ethnographe and, by his own admission, brought a strong measure of pure invention to his work.16 Indeed, Gauguin tended to evoke in his writings only the most vague, general notions of ancient Polynesian religion, describing “sacred crimes,” “ferocious ancient cults,” and “I know not what sacred horror.”17 It was the dark, atavistic underside of Polynesian culture—the deep, nocturnal reserves of savagery and superstitious fear that he felt he could detect beneath the tranquil surface of everyday life in Tahiti—which he tried to bring to the fore in paintings with titles like Contes barbares (Barbaric Tales) and Parau Hanohano (Terrifying Words).18 Arii Matamoe functions itself as a kind of fanciful conte barbare, sublime in its exotic mystery and destined to mystify or alienate his Western bourgeois audience. As Gauguin wrote to the painter Paul Serusier at the end of March 1892:

I don’t dare talk about what I’m doing here, my canvases terrify me so; the public will never accept them. It’s ugly from every point of view, and I will not really know what it is until all of you have seen it, in Paris… . What I’m doing now is quite ugly, quite mad. My God, why did you make me this way? I am cursed.

What a religion the ancient Oceanic religion is. What a marvel! My brain is bursting with it and all it suggests to me will certainly frighten people. If they are afraid to have my old paintings in an exhibition, then what will they say about the new ones?19

Sensationally “ugly,” “mad” paintings like Arii Matamoe were never about promoting knowledge of traditional Tahitian customs. With “ancient Oceanic religion” now subsisting wholly in Gauguin’s fevered imagination, such works were about capitalizing on a projected fear of the strange and the unknown.

As his self-dramatizing letter makes clear, Gauguin never lost sight of his European audience. If Arii Matamoe imaginatively evokes ancient Polynesian death rites, it also taps into recognizably European iconographies. Syncretic in his imagination and working methods, Gauguin did not hesitate to transpose European imagery into a Tahitian context.

Besides the decapitations featuring routinely in old master painting, Gauguin’s severed head would have automatically conjured for French audiences the guillotine, the execution, or “royal end,” of Louis XVI (particularly in 1893, the centenary of that event), and the Revolution’s legacy of capital punishment, which for many critics had lodged a new barbarism in the heart of French society.20 Significantly, Gauguin’s own artistic interest in decapitation was first triggered by his witnessing of the guillotining of a convicted murderer in December 1888.21 It was only after that occasion that the motif appears in his art, first in a ceramic jug he fashioned as a self-portrait, with blood-red glazing for gory detailing (fig. 4), and then in a still-life painting that wittily juxtaposes the same jug with a Japanese print of a grimacing warrior brandishing a sword.22 Gauguin’s morbid interest in severed heads was further overdetermined by his place in the French Symbolist milieu of the 1870s–90s, in which a psychosexually fraught imagery of the decapitated Orpheus, John the Baptist, and other legendary figures became pervasive.23

Fig. 4. Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), Self-Portrait Jug, 1889. Glazed stoneware, H.: 19.5 cm, Diam.: 12 cm. Copenhagen, Museum of Decorative Arts, inv. no. 962.
Fig. 4. Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), Self-Portrait Jug, 1889. Glazed stoneware, H.: 19.5 cm, Diam.: 12 cm. Copenhagen, Museum of Decorative Arts, inv. no. 962. Photo: Nikki Olsen (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Symbolist iconography of severed heads, Gauguin’s previous self-identification as a victim of the guillotine, and his wishful posturing as a “savage”—an “Incan,” “Indian,” or “Maori”—combine to suggest that Arii Matamoe had some deeply personal meaning for him and served in his construction of his own artistic myth. Indeed, the fact that the interior he depicts (with its bamboo poles, carpet, and assorted bric-a-brac) closely resembles the kind of abode he would fashion for himself in Tahiti suggests how self-reflexive the painting was for him.24 In this context, the severed head may readily have bolstered Gauguin’s egocentric image of himself as the noble artist-martyr, as the long-suffering victim of the corrupt modern world whose Christ-like suffering and sacrifice was the necessary price to be paid for the artistic regeneration of the future.25 For his Symbolist peers, the severed head also carried connotations of spiritual and artistic liberation from the body and the realm of matter.26 Gauguin certainly presented himself in this way, opposing his investment in a creative, inner vision, frequently signaled by closed eyes in his work, with the material concerns—the financial worries, familial responsibilities, and physical ailments—that tormented and harassed him. The head with “sleeping eyes” could thus have suggested Gauguin’s yearning for a figurative death to the world, for an escape to a tranquil, spiritual life where he could focus entirely on his art.

A reading of the painting in terms of liberation is further reinforced by a climactic episode in Noa Noa. In a celebrated passage, Gauguin follows a Tahitian youth into the jungle in search of some choice wood with which to make a sculpture. Transgressive sexual impulses are awakened in the artist, which he then triumphs over and sublimates in the violent act of chopping wood with an ax. As he presents it, this act is symbolic of his severing of ties with a decadent European civilization and of his transfigurative rebirth as a true “Maori.”27 This narrative arguably resonates with Gauguin’s 1891 painting, Man with an Ax, and with his idyllic 1892 work, Matamoe, which repeats the woodcutter motif on a smaller scale.28 Though the motif of the ax is only questionably present in Arii Matamoe (in the seated figure in the background who holds a tool, possibly a hatchet), the painting suggestively adds decapitation to an associative chain linked in Gauguin’s imagination by a liberative act of severing.

The symbolic ambivalence of Arii Matamoe, with its simultaneous associations of death and liberation, is amplified by its attendant figures and accessories. Gauguin’s pairing of the two central “guardian” figures, one facing inward, one outward, is anticipated by numerous works in which this identical pair is generally understood to represent the basic duality of life and death or some variation thereupon (joy and suffering, constraint and liberation, and so forth).29 The paired tiki figures, witness to Gauguin’s interest in Marquesan carving, have similarly been associated with cosmological cycles of birth, death, and rebirth as Gauguin described them in his Ancien culte Mahorie (1891–92).30 It is not improbable that the juxtaposition of closed and open lotus blossoms above these idols was intended as a further ramification of such mythic oppositions.31

The contradictory readings that Arii Matamoe is able to sustain simultaneously testify to Gauguin’s Symbolist emphasis on open-ended suggestion and polyvalence, warding against any neat resolution. Likewise on a formal level, the difficulty of coherently “reading” Gauguin’s work is insistent. One is struck particularly by the bizarre spatial tensions generated by the artist’s introduction of “primitive” moments of iconic frontality and decorative flatness (particularly with the wall and the mask suspended ambiguously between the table and bamboo screen) into the conventional perspectival space-box of the picture (indicated by the receding lines of the carpet and floorboards). The impression is of an abruptly disjunctive space suspended uncertainly between Western and non-Western codes of representation, a space suggestive more of a dream than waking reality, where the accumulated figures, motifs, and morceaux do not bear a necessarily logical or self-evident relationship to each other, but confront the viewer strangely, as a mystery to be divined.

  • Scott C. Allan
    Written 2010, revised 2012

  1. This essay is a condensed version of my paper, “ ‘A Pretty Piece of Painting’: Gauguin’s Arii Matamoe,Getty Research Journal, no. 4 (2012), pp. 75–90.
  2. See Paul Gauguin, Noa Noa: Voyage à Tahiti, illustrated manuscript, Musée du Louvre (facsimile, Stockholm: Jan Förlag, 1947), p. 59; and Ronald Pickvance, Gauguin, exh. cat. (Martigny: Fondation Pierre Gianadda, 1998), pp. 237–38, no. 87. On Gauguin’s strategies of illustration in Noa Noa more generally, see Isabelle Cahn, “Noa Noa: Voyage de Tahiti,” in Gauguin, Tahiti: L’atelier des tropiques, Claire Frèches-Thory et al., exh. cat. (Paris: Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 2003), pp. 142–47.
  3. Kanak was a generic term at the time for a native Pacific Islander.
  4. “Je viens de terminer une tête de canaque coupée bien arrangée sur un coussin blanc dans un palais de mon invention et gardée par des femmes de mon invention aussi. Je crois que c’est un joli morceau de peinture. Il n’est pas tout-à-fait de moi car je l’ai volé dans une planche de sapin. Il ne faudra rien dire mais que voulez-vous, on fait ce qu’on peut, et quand les marbres ou les bois vous dessinent une tête c’est joliment tentant de voler,” in Paul Gauguin, Lettres de Gauguin à Daniel de Monfreid, ed. Mme Joly-Segalen (Paris: Georges Falaize, 1950), p. 57.
  5. X-radiographic and infrared analysis by the Paintings Conservation Department at the J. Paul Getty Museum has revealed a precise preliminary design and only very minor pentimenti—findings consistent with Gauguin’s practice since the 1880s.
  6. On mata motifs in Marquesan art and the sacred meanings attached to them, see Carol S. Ivory, “Art and Aesthetics in the Marquesas Islands,” in Eric Kjellgren and Carol S. Ivory, Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 31–35. As Gauguin observed in connection to Marquesan art in 1903: “La base en est le corps humain ou le visage. Le visage surtout. On est étonné de trouver un visage là où l’on croyait à une figure étrange géométrique. Toujours la même chose et cependant jamais la même chose” (Paul Gauguin, Avant et après [Paris: Éditions G. Crès et cie., 1923], p. 80). These comments speak directly to the artist’s use of skull motifs in the decorative patterning of the wall in Arii Matamoe.
  7. See Bengt Danielsson, “Gauguin’s Tahitian Titles,” The Burlington Magazine 109, no. 769 (April 1967), p. 230, no. 6.
  8. On Gauguin’s brief stay in New Zealand and his cursory encounter with Polynesian art at the Auckland Museum, see Jehanne Teilhet-Fisk, Paradise Reviewed: An Interpretation of Gauguin’s Polynesian Symbolism (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983), pp. 107–10; and David Sweetman, Paul Gauguin: A Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 414–20.
  9. ”—Tu es Taïmaha, la femme de Rouéri ? /—Oui, dit-elle encore, en levant la tête avec nonchalance,—c’est moi, Taïmaha, la femme de Rouéri, le marin dont les yeux sommeillent (mata moé), c’est-à-dire: qui n’est plus … /—Et moi, je suis Loti, le frère de Rouéri! [italics in the original text]” Pierre Loti [Julien Viaud], Le mariage de Loti (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1878), p. 193.
  10. Exposition Paul Gauguin, exh. cat. (Paris: Galeries Durand-Ruel, 1893), p. 18, no. 12.
  11. See, for example, Jehanne Teilhet-Fisk 1983 (note 8), pp. 62–65.
  12. “Avec lui disparaissaient les derniers vestiges des habitudes et des grandeurs anciennes. Avec lui la tradition maorie était morte. C’était bien fini. La civilisation, hélas! Triomphait—soldatesque, négoce et fonctionnarisme. / Une tristesse profonde s’empara de moi. Avoir fait tant de chemin pour trouver celà celà même que je fuyais! Le rêve qui m’amenait à Tahiti était cruellement démenti par le présent: C’est la Tahiti d’autrefois que j’aimais. Et je ne pouvais me résigner à croire qu’elle fut tout à fait anéantie, que cette belle race n’eût rien, nulle part, sauvegardé de sa vieille splendeur. Mais les traces de ce passé si lointain, si mystérieux, quand elles subsisteraient encore, comment les découvrir, tout seul, sans indication sans aucun appui? Retrouver le foyer éteint, raviver le feu au milieu de toutes ces cendres” (Noa Noa [note 2], pp. 32–33).
  13. For Gauguin’s description of the death, mourning, and funeral of the king, see Noa Noa (note 2), pp. 28–29, 30–32; also Sweetman 1995 (note 8), pp. 282–84; and Paule Laudon, Tahiti-Gauguin: Mythe et vérités (Paris: Adam Biro, 2003), pp. 25–26.
  14. “Le négre Lacascade fit un discours, cliché connu qu’un interprète traduisit ensuite pour l’assistance maorie. Puis, le pasteur protestant fit un prêche. Enfin, Lati, frère de la reine, répondit—Et ce fut tout: on partit, les fonctionnaires s’entassaient dans des carioles … cela rappelait quelque retour de courses. / Sur la route, à la débandade, l’indifférence des Français donnant le ton tout ce peuple, si grave depuis plusieurs jours, recommençait à rire” (Noa Noa [note 2], p. 31).
  15. For these sorts of “ethnographic” explanations, see, for example, Teilhet-Fisk 1983 (note 8), p. 63; or Henri Dorra, The Symbolism of Paul Gauguin: Erotica, Exotica, and the Great Dilemmas of Humanity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 208–9. For some passages in Moerenhout detailing various rites and customs involving severed heads and skulls, see Voyages aux îles du grand océan, 2 vols. (Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1837), vol. 1, pp. 508–12, 546–55; vol. 2, p. 47.
  16. An important review of as well as caution against the “ethnographic” line of interpretation can be found in Philippe Dagen, “Têtes coupées: Gauguin lecteur de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam,” in Gauguin: Actes du colloque Gauguin, Musée d’Orsay, 1113 janvier 1989 (Paris: La documentation française, 1991), pp. 221–23.
  17. Noa Noa (note 2), p. 17.
  18. See Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin, vol. I, Catalogue (Paris : Les beaux-arts, 1964), nos. 459–60.
  19. “Ce que je fais ici, je n’ose en parler tellement mes toiles m’épouvantent; jamais le public ne l’admettra. C’est laid à tous les points de vue et je ne saurai vraiment ce que cela est qu’à Paris quand vous tous aurez vu… . Ce que je fais maintenant est bien laid, bien fou. Mon Dieu, pourquoi m’avoir bâti ainsi? Je suis maudit. / Quelle religion que l’ancienne religion océanienne. Quelle merveille! Mon cerveau en claque et tout ce que cela me suggère va bien effrayer. Si donc on redoute mes œuvres anciennes dans un salon, que dire alors des nouvelles?” (Letter to Paul Sérusier, March 25, 1892, in Paul Gauguin, Oviri: écrits d’un sauvage, ed. Daniel Guérin [Paris: Gallimard, 1974], p. 80).
  20. On the guillotine’s prolonged haunting of nineteenth-century French visual culture, art, and literature, see Jean Clair, ed., Crime et châtiment, exh. cat. (Paris: Musée d’Orsay; Gallimard, 2010), pp. 65–73, 75–83, 94–103, 117–23. On the discourse in Gauguin’s day on the relative humanity or barbarity of various modes of capital punishment, see, for just one example, W. de Fonvielle, “La peine de mort et l’électrocution,” Revue encyclopédique 4, no. 75 (Jan. 15, 1894), pp. 38–44. The guillotine as an instrument of justice also seems to have found its way to French Tahiti. Caroline Boyle-Turner has informed me of a Chinese man who was guillotined for rape in Papeete in the 1890s (a crime of which he was later proved innocent).
  21. See Richard Brettell et al., The Art of Paul Gauguin, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1988), pp. 126–27, under no. 64; and Dagen 1991 (note 16), pp. 217–19.
  22. See Wildenstein 1964 (note 18), no. 375; and Brettell et al. 1988 (note 21), pp. 125–26, no. 64.
  23. On the late-nineteenth-century obsession with severed heads, see, for example, Jean-Pierre Reverseau, “Pour une étude du thème de la tête coupée dans la littérature et la peinture dans la seconde partie du XIXe siècle,” Gazette des beaux-arts 80, no. 1244 (Sept. 1972), pp. 173–84; Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 352–401; and Dagen 1991 (note 16), pp. 213–25.
  24. See Pickvance 1998 (note 2), p. 238, under no. 87. In a November 1895 letter to Daniel de Monfreid, Gauguin described his Tahitian “hut”: “C’est superbe comme exposition, à l’ombre, sur le bord de la route, et derrière moi une vue de la montagne épastrouillante. Figurez-vous une grande cage à moineaux grille de bamboos avec toit de chaume de cocotier, divisée en deux parties par les rideaux de mon ancien atelier. Une des deux parties forme chambre à coucher avec très peu de lumière pour avoir de la fraîcheur. L’autre partie a une grande fenêtre en haut pour former atelier. Par terre, des nattes et mon ancien tapis persan: le tout décoré avec étoffes, bibelots et dessins” (Paul Gauguin, Lettres de Gauguin à Daniel de Monfreid [note 4], p. 83).
  25. On this aspect of Gauguin’s self-image, see Vojtěch Jirat-Wasiutyński, “Gauguin in the Context of Symbolism,” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1975), pp. 353–68; Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Gauguin’s Religious Themes (New York: Garland, 1985), pp. 72–121; Françoise Cachin, “Gauguin Portrayed by Himself and by Others,” in Brettell et al. 1988 (note 21), pp. xxii–xxiii; Naomi Margolis Maurer, The Pursuit of Spiritual Wisdom: The Thought and Art of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998), pp. 127–30; or Debora Silverman, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), pp. 295–301.
  26. On the connection between Symbolist idealism and decapitation, see Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond, “Le châtiment de l’artiste: Images symbolists du sacrifice,” in Clair 2010 (note 20), pp. 118–19; and, in particular connection to the Orpheus myth, Dorothy M. Kosinski, Orpheus in Nineteenth-Century Symbolism (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989), pp. 189–205.
  27. See Noa Noa (note 2), pp. 76–83. Important discussions of this passage may be found in Wayne Andersen, Gauguin’s Paradise Lost (New York: Viking, 1971), pp. 202–11; Patricia Mathews, Passionate Discontent: Creativity, Gender, and French Symbolist Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 167–69; and Hal Foster, Prosthetic Gods (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 21–28.
  28. See Wildenstein 1964 (note 18), nos. 430, 484. On the connection of these works to Gauguin’s passage in Noa Noa, see, for example, Andersen 1971 (note 27), p. 209; Reinhold Hohl, “Gauguin’s Man with an Axe,Source 2, no. 2 (winter 1983), pp. 30–32; and Maurer 1998 (note 25), p. 144.
  29. The crouching figure famously derives from a Peruvian mummy that Gauguin studied in the Ethnographic Museum at the Trocadero in Paris. From 1889 on, she appears in his work as a symbol of death, often with overtones of fear, repression, and guilt, which he associated with the biblical figure of Eve. The adjacent figure facing outward had more positive, life-affirming, love-embracing connotations for the artist. She, too, first appears in 1889, as the exultant bathing figure in his Ondine compositions. For a useful overview of the thematics of these paired figures, see Eric M. Zafran, “Searching for Nirvana,” in Gauguin’s Nirvana: Painters at Le Pouldu, 1889–1890, exh. cat. (Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, with Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 103–27.
  30. See, for instance, Jirat-Wasiutyński 1975 (note 25), pp. 348–49; Richard S. Field, Paul Gauguin: The Paintings of the First Voyage to Tahiti (New York: Garland, 1977), p. 130; Teilhet-Fisk 1983 (note 8), p. 65; and Maurer 1998 (note 25), p. 153. For a broader discussion of Gauguin’s adaptations of Marquesan tiki figures in his art and his association of them with Polynesian creation myths, see Amishai-Maisels 1985 (note 25), pp. 348–56. On the centrality of the mythic opposition of death and rebirth in Gauguin’s conception of his art, see Vojtěch Jirat-Wasiutyński, “Paul Gauguin’s Self-Portraits and the Oviri: The Image of the Artist, Eve, and the Fatal Woman,” Art Quarterly 2, no. 2 (Spring 1979), pp. 172–90.
  31. On the lotus and its connection to ideas of regeneration, see Andersen 1971 (note 27), pp. 210–11; Teilhet-Fisk 1983 (note 8), p. 65; Maurer 1998 (note 25), pp. 131, 137, 144, 156.