Friday, March 2, 2007

Brooding Woman (1891)

After his first few weeks in Tahiti, Gauguin moved to a hut in the jungle approximately 20 miles from the capital Papeete. He took a Tahitian lover, Tahua, and teased her mercilessly. He frequently compared her to a print of Manet’s Olympia, the iconic naked prostitute whose portrait hanged in his studio. It seems that Gauguin preferred the fantasy of a brazan courtesan to the charms of a simple peasant girl.

Gauguin found it difficult to paint during his first few months, claiming that he needed a “gestation period” in order to familiarise himself with his new surroundings. He initially felt overwhelmed by the Tahitian landscape which he described as “capricious” and “incapable of definition”. He also confessed to fits of lethargy and depression.

In his letters back home he portrayed Tahiti as an idyllic paradise. He claimed that idleness was endemic because the Tahitians were too pure and noble to waste their lives in pointless strife. In doing so he hoped to win a new following amongst those who dreamed of a distant paradise while enduring the daily grind of industrial France. However Tahiti, like anywhere else, had its own problems of poverty, alcoholism and disease.

In “Brooding Woman” Gauguin projects his own melancholic mood onto the Tahitian girl who sits cross-legged in the foreground. The girl’s simplified form lacks any distinguishing features. Gauguin is not interested in her individual personality. To him she represents a type. Her hut is empty apart from the half-eaten food which looms large in the foreground. Its open door reveals a glimpse of the landscape beyond. Her apathy is in sharp contrast to the alert dog and mounted peasant in the background. Once again Gauguin combines two contrasting motifs in an unnatural dreamlike setting.

Image Source: The Yorck Project

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