Tahitian Women with Mango Blossoms

Gauguin went far to find his garden of eden. He arrived with its lovely and mysterious image, drawn in part from his own desires, already partially fixed in his mind's eye; otherwise he could hardly, in cold blood and with an objective vision, have mustered up the courage to seek it out. Therefore he rarely looked at his surroundings as they were, rarely painted them without some added elements of his ideal vision, no matter how often, in retrospect, he understood that this had been deceived.

This canvas does achieve that sort of simplicity. It is a study of the nude, with no admixture of the programmatic. Perhaps for this reason it is softer than many of Gauguin's pictures. The bodies are modeled, the colors light in tone. Gauguin wrote with admiration of the erect stature, the broad shoulders, the strength with grace of the Polynesian women. Here he has rendered that impression.

And he has done something more. Contrary to the figures of other paintings -- Spirit of the Dead Watching, or The Day of the God, or Nevermore, these women are not veiled in a mythological tradition, they simply confront us. Gauguin might have been writing of them (though they were painted later) in his reply to August Strindberg, when he professed not to understand Gauguin's exotic world:

"Before the Eve of my choice, that I have painted in the forms and harmonies of another world, your favorite memories have perhaps recalled an unhappy past. The Eve of your civilized conception makes you, makes almost all of us misogynist; [but] that ancient Eve, who frightens you in my studio, may one day smile at you less bitterly . . .

"The Eve that I have painted (she alone) can logically remain nude before our eyes."

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