Ancestors of Tehamana

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Ancestors of Tehamana, Paul Gauguin, 1893
By REID GUEMMER  

Paul Gauguin played an essential role in the Symbolism movement of the early 1900s. Much of his work focuses on rich vibrant colors and accentuated body proportions. Towards the end of his career he spent much time in French-Polynesia, specifically Tahiti. He was originally excited to study the culture of the country, although soon discovered the major western influence brought upon the island by settlers. In response Gauguin took it upon himself to understand the culture the best he could, the evidence of his adoration for the culture is present in the numerous paintings that incorporate Tahitian influence or depict locals, although all retaining a sense of Gauguin’s signature style.

While living in Tahiti he began an affair with a local thirteen-year-old girl. She sat for many of his paintings including Ancestors of Tehamana. The young girl is propped in a commonly-seen European portrait pose while holding a fan. The fan, stylistically resembling Tahitian culture, points towards the hieroglyphics and a depiction of the goddess Hina. The goddess is associated with many Pacific Island cultures, although is represented differently in the various societies. In Tahiti she is specifically credited for bringing coconut trees to the island. The angle of the fan helps to express the girls pride in culture and how she resembles the goddess. The fan also expresses Gauguin’s intense interest in the culture.


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