It was on a steamer inching across the oceanic expanse toward the Marquesas Islands that French-born Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) found himself headed for Hiva Oa in 1901. He had been living in Tahiti since the mid-1890s, but it was becoming more developed, and his hope was that the Marquesas would prove to be more pristine. The fair isle of Hiva Oa offered tiki statues, sprays of colorful flowers, and landscape drama, but both here and in Tahiti his canvases were more likely to feature the lives of the people. To simply document his paradisiacal surroundings would have been too pedestrian for Gauguin. His tableaus of the tropics tended to have a reflective mood suggesting musings about human existence and the perplexities of life. Whether set in Polynesia’s tropical environs or Brittany’s postcard-perfect vistas, often in his dreamy scenes there can be detected a whisper of the mysterious.
Smith JM. Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen)Paul Gauguin . JAMA. 2015;314(24):2602-2603. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.12161