Despite being painted in Tahiti, Nevermore stems from European painting traditions.

The reclining figure evokes both Renaissance female nudes by the Venetian artist Titian and more contemporary works, such as Ingres’s Grande Odalisque of 1814 (Musée du Louvre, Paris). Nevermore recalls the exotic luxury of Ingres’s masterpiece but the latter depicts a serene, sumptuous figure who returns our gaze invitingly amidst an opulent setting.

Manet also picked up this tradition in his notorious depiction of a nude courtesan in Olympia (1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), whose direct confrontational gaze asserts her power.

The flatness and anxiety of Gauguin’s figure, turned fully and vulnerably towards us, seems quite the opposite. Perhaps the vulnerability of this figure is suggestive of the broader context for this painting: that of Tahiti’s relationship to France, a colony under the yoke of a powerful European power.

Gauguin’s image of Tahiti is a myth, the fabrication of traditional décor and dress covering over the gradual disappearance of Tahitian identity into, as Gauguin put it, ‘a bygone age’.

 

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Impressionists and Post Impressionists

With Dr Caroline Campbell, Schroder Foundation Curator of Paintings.

Watch the movie [9:37 min]