Gauguin’s erotic Tahiti idyll exposed as a sham – The Guardian

Paul gauguin in tahiti

Paul Gauguin, known for his paintings of exotic idylls and Polynesian beauties, was a sadist who beat his wife, exploited his friends, and lied to the world about the erotic Eden he claimed to have discovered on the island of the south seas. from tahiti.

The most exhaustive study ever conducted into Gauguin’s life has revealed a brutal man who falsely presents himself as a creature of exotic sexuality, a champion of women’s rights, and a bastion of socialist ideals.

‘No one has ever questioned Gauguin’s own version of the man he was and the life he lived,’ said Nancy Mowll Mathews, author of Paul Gauguin’s An Erotic Life, to be published this week. ‘but the reality couldn’t be more different.’

Until now, the received opinion has been that Gauguin’s wife was an evil witch who haunted her husband from the family home. But Mathews has uncovered letters that prove that Matte Gad was in fact a kind and intelligent woman who was physically, verbally, and emotionally victimized by her husband.

‘When I was 10 years old,’ wrote the couple’s son, Emil, in an unpublished letter, ‘I saw my father bloody my mother’s face with his fist.’

by 1890, gauguin’s career was in crisis: matte had thrown him out of the family home, his paintings were in disgrace, and the best art dealers in the city had deserted him. “By the end of the year, Gauguin was like a cornered dog,” Mathews said. ‘He was harassing his friends for cash and desperately coming up with one new money-making scheme after another.’

Finally, in 1891, he came up with the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčtraveling to Tahiti to paint illustrations for the most popular novel of the day, The Wedding of Loti by Pierre Loti. he hosted a banquet for the cream of the literary and artistic world and explained how the primitive and erotic conditions of life in Tahiti would revive his muse.

‘represented the natives living only to sing and make love,’ said mathews. This is how he got the money from his friends and aroused public interest in his adventure. but of course she knew the truth, which was that tahiti was an ordinary island with a westernized international community.’

‘I am on the brink of the abyss, but I will not fall,’ Gauguin wrote to a friend the day before he left.

Tahiti was more sexually liberated than turn-of-the-century Paris, and Gauguin no doubt reveled in the opportunities it offered, but his time there was not as extreme as he claimed. Unfazed, Gauguin transformed his mundane experiences into exciting erotic adventures.

‘The island [and the realities of Gauguin’s life there] are virtually unrecognizable in his depictions, carefully calculated to intrigue the French audience,’ Mathews said.

After two years, Gauguin returned to France, expecting a hero’s welcome. But what should have been a triumphant return turned into a morass of misunderstanding and disappointment as his paintings went unsold.

In a final attempt to pique public interest, Gauguin wrote Noa Noa, his autobiographical account of his life in Tahiti. “Writing the book was the beginning of Gauguin’s writing of an erotic life for himself,” said Mathews. ‘He created a life for public consumption as part of his campaign to make his exhibitions, and therefore his future, a success.

However, Gauguin’s efforts failed, and less than a year later, he was making plans to return to Tahiti. “Gauguin seems to have fallen in love with the Tahiti myth that he created,” Mathews said. he returned expecting the erotic idyll that was never more than a figment of his imagination. Of course, he didn’t find it and the disappointment was profound: he died a twisted and bitter man, having alienated everyone both at home and in Tahiti. is the sad story of a man who believed in his own fiction.’

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