Exhibition Archive

Gauguins Tahitian Prints: A selection from the Noa Noa album

1 August - 30 September 2003

Paul Gauguin, Auti Te Pape (Women at the Riverside) 1893-4
Paul Gauguin, Auti Te Pape (Women at the Riverside) 1893-4

Disillusioned with Western civilization, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) set off in 1891 for Tahiti in search of an unspoilt native society. Noa Noa, a romanticized written account of this first visit, attempts to explain his Tahitian paintings to the Parisian public. The descriptions of Polynesian gods and legends were borrowed directly from J. A. Moerenhout’s popular book, Voyages aux Iles du Grand Océan (1837).

Inspired by Japanese prints and Maori carvings, Gauguin transferred his relief carving skills to woodblock printing. His suite of ten illustrations for Noa Noa were never published with the text, but in 1921 the eight impressions shown in this display, together with two other Tahitian subjects, were printed by his son, Pola, in an edition of 100. For these mysterious Symbolist images he experimented with white-line wood engraving, cutting and scraping with unorthodox tools into the hard endgrain of boxwood to produce subtle gradations of tone and texture. Essentially the first modern woodblock prints, the Noa Noa suite, with its strikingly ‘primitive’ appearance, had a profound effect on later printmakers, especially Edvard Munch and the German Expressionists.