Paul Gauguin’s Exotic Paintings

Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist. He is renowned for his undeterred pursuit of authenticity in art and the resulting images of the tropical paradise he settled in. However, Gauguin only rose to prominence posthumously after art dealer Ambroise Vollard organized posthumous exhibitions in his honor.  

Gauguin’s unprecedented methods influenced many avant-garde techniques from the late 19th century to the early 20th century and artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. To illustrate, his bold use of color and exaggerated body proportions had a formative influence on the Synthetist style. Also, his Cloisonnist style directly paved the way for Primitivism. 

In his later years, Gauguin abandoned “artificial European civilization,” as he called it, for a self-imposed exile in Tahiti, French Polynesia. He spent roughly a decade on the island painting exotic images of natives and their breathtaking landscapes. This article looks at some of Gauguin’s finest works, particularly during his time in French Polynesia. 

Let’s Know Paul Gauguin

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France, on June 7, 1848. It was when revolutionary upheavals swept across Europe, and consequently, his family fled France for his mother’s native Peru. However, the Peruvian civil war sent them packing back to France in 1854.

Gauguin briefly served with the French military and eventually became a stockbroker. He built a keen interest in art and started painting in his spare time. By the 1980s, he had quit his job in the stock market and painted full-time as an Impressionist. Works from this period include Garden in Vaugirard and La Bergère Bretonne.’

Subsequently, Gauguin became bored of traditional European art. In search of new inspiration, he left Europe for Tahiti in 1891 and spent the remainder of his life there. It was during this period that Paul Gauguin’s exotic paintings were produced. 

Te Aa No Areois (The Seed Of Areoi)

Paul Gauguin created this oil painting in 1892, and at the time, it was regarded as his most controversial work. It portrays a Tahitian woman, believed to be his mistress Tehura, as the goddess Vairaumati. The painting illustrates the myth of a Polynesian secret society called the Areoi. 

According to the legend, the god Oro found Vaïraümati bathing on the island of Bora Bora and fell in love with her. He was so pleased with her that he turned her into a goddess one night, and she bore him a son. Their son became the mighty chieftain of the Areoi race. 

In Gauguin’s depiction, Vaïraümati sits naked atop a blue and white wrapper with a tray of fruits and flowers by her feet. She’s also holding a flowering seed which symbolizes fertility. Her background reflects the beautiful scenery of the Polynesian islands. 

Tahitian Women on the Beach

This is an 1891 oil painting by Paul Gauguin depicting two Tahitian women sitting on the beach. Later, Gauguin created a similar painting titled Parau api (Two Women of Tahiti). The second painting also depicts the same pair of Tahitian women. 

Both women sit on the sand, with one facing the viewer but looking away and the other turning her back to the viewer. The yellow sand is contrasted by their darker skin and the black waters in the background. The outfits chosen for his subjects reflect both the Tahitian culture and the influence of colonialism. 

Gauguin arrived in Tahiti in the summer of 1891, and this is beloved to be his earliest painting on the island. The painting currently resides at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. 

Arearea (Joyousness)

This 1892 painting depicts 2 Polynesian women centered in the image. They sit on a hilly topography as some other women in the background worship the statue of an idol. In the foreground, a collarless dog is sniffing around. 

The appearance of stray dogs in several of his paintings has been the subject of much speculation, with some hoping to find their symbolic or metaphorical meaning. 

The painting was one of Gauguin’s works exhibited at his 1893 Durand-Ruel exhibition in Paris and was later left to the French state. It formerly resided in the Musée Louvre before it was moved to the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, in 1986.

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

The painting was created by Gauguin between 1897-98 and is notable for its enigmatic subject and theme. Art scholars have posited that the painting’s subject reflects Gauguin’s internal conflict and existential questions. 

It is noteworthy that Gauguin’s tropical paradise is painted in a somber atmosphere in this work. In addition, the typically colorful Tahitian backdrop has been depicted in a shadowy style, further intensifying the effect of the title, which compels viewers to pause and ponder. 

The painting is one of Paul Gauguin famous drawings, and it currently resides in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA.

La Orana Maria (Hail Mary)

This oil painting, dated back to 1891, is one of Gauguin’s earliest works. It is a Polynesian representation of the famous art theme, Madonna and Child, and is currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

The painting depicts two native women greeting the Polynesian Madonna and Child as they walk on a violet footpath. It is set in a mountainous background and lush greenery with fruit baskets lying at Madonna’s feet. 

Madonna stands in the foreground with a calm demeanor. She gracefully smiles at the viewer in a rich red wrapper. Her two hands clasp her little boy’s foot as it dangles on her chest from his seated position on her left shoulder. Mother and child both have the signature halos from the Madonna and child theme. 


Gauguin’s time in the Polynesian islands rebranded his artistry and established him as the foremost proponent of primitive beauty. His portraits display a skillful depiction of Polynesian features, while his landscapes showcase a tropical paradise. These exotic paintings and what he sacrificed to paint them have become what he is mainly remembered for today.

Also Read: How to Select the Right Painting Contractor

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