“Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina” (part 4 of “Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.”)

#3 TAHITIAN IDOL-THE GODDESS HINA

Fig. 9. Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina, 1894/95 – woodcut in black ink, over ochre and red, with touches of white and green inks, on tan wove paper, 5.78 x 4.72 inches (147 x 120 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.

By John P. Walsh

For some pieces of graphic art Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) uses the moniker “P.Go.” to sign them.52  In Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina (fig.9), it is present in the lower left corner slightly on its side. While Day of the Gods, painted in Paris in 1894 at the same time as the woodcut, received a simple signature of “Gauguin” (the painting was not exhibited in the artist’s lifetime), Gauguin sometimes used these new graphic art works as “image translations” to explain his Tahitian art to the Parisian public. This may explain the pretension of the anagram here.53

Gauguin’s obsession with the primitive, the savage, is evident in this work. The small woodcut is an image of a Tahitian goddess where the composition’s diverse elements congeal to a single mask to be held in the palm of one’s hand. Goddess Hina, immobile and august, is fitted into the composition as a first among equals. A tree fills the left border like a totem with a V-formed sprout. At the woodcut’s top border – and peering out of a branch at the tree trunk’s crux – is a profile of an evil spirit represented by a head. The grassy hair of the goddess fills about half the background and falls to nestle by her left arm. Gauguin uses several stock elements in different attitudes or positions. For example, he used the evil head in the 1892 painting Parau na te Varua ino (Words of the Devil) (fig.10) and this woodcut’s symbolism likewise remains complex. In the woodcut, to Goddess Hina’s right and immediately below the malevolent spirit who materializes in strange and frightening humanoid forms, appear abstracted forms of a coiled snake and other ceremonial visages. Goddess Hina is primitive and statuesque whereas the evil head possesses a sinister aspect with circles that serve as open eyes.

443px-Paul_Gauguin_-_Parau_na_te_Varua_ino_(1892)

fig.10. Gauguin, Parau na te Varua ino (Words of the Devil), 1892, oil on canvas, 91.7 × 68.5 cm (36 1/8 × 25 15/16 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

When Gauguin wrote from Tahiti in March 1899 to Belgian Symbolist poet and critic André Fontainas with reflections on the South Seas, he expressed strong feelings of awe, personal vigil, and dream-like vision. Such qualities must have been experienced on his first Tahiti trip for they permeate a work like Tahitian Idol – The Goddess Hina:

“Here near my hut, in utter silence, I dream of violent harmonies in the natural fragrances that exhilarate me. A pleasure heightened by an indefinable sacred awe which I divine towards the immemorial. In bygone days, an odor of joy that I breathe in the present. Animal figures in statuesque rigidity: something inexpressibly old, august, religious in the rhythm of their gesture, in their rare immobility. In dreaming eyes, the cloudy surface of an unfathomable enigma. And here is nightfall – everything is at rest. My eyes close in order to see without understanding the dream in the infinite space that recedes before me, and I have a sense of the doleful march of my hopes.”54

paul-gauguin-7 hut

Paul Gauguin’s hut in Tahiti – Jules Agostini (1859-1930), December 31, 1904. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In a work of approximately 5 x 4 inches―and its small size in no way diminishes its artistic force – Gauguin achieves in Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina a craftsman’s unity of good and evil in nature. Before his first visit to Tahiti Gauguin already had familiarity with this theme of nature’s duality for he uses it in his 1889 painting Self-Portrait (fig. 11) where halo and snake vie within and for creation.

smaller self portrait

fig.11. Gauguin, Self-Portrait, 1889, oil on wood, 79.2 x 51.3 cm (31 3/16 x 20 3/16 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

NOTES:

  1. Brettell., p. 330.
  2. Ibid., p. 330.
  3. Delevoy, Robert L., Symbolists and Symbolism, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, 1982, page 54.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

MORE WORK BY PAUL GAUGUIN in THE FRANCE INTERLUDE:

507px-brooklyn_museum_-_tahitian_woman_-_paul_gauguin_-_overallfixed

PAUL GAUGUIN, Tahitian Woman, 1894?, irregularly shaped; charcoal and pastel, selectively stumped, and worked with brush and water on wove “pasted” paper, glued to secondary support of yellow wove paper mounted on gray millboard. The Brooklyn Museum. A pastel where Gauguin subverted the medium.

young-christian-girl

PAUL GAUGUIN The Young Christian Girl, 15 3/8 x 18 inches, oil on canvas, Clark Institute Art Institute, Massachusetts. Gauguin painted this work in Northern France fusing imagery from his recent experiences in Tahiti. She is shown in a dress similar to those brought by Christian missionaries to the South Sea Islands.

 

 

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