(b. 1848, Paris, d. 1903, Atuona, Hiva Oa, French Polynesia)

By the Sea (Fatata te Miti)

Oil on canvas, 68 x 92 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

In 1889 Gauguin had painted a pair of works entitled Women Bathing (Life and Death) and Woman in the Waves (Ondine). The latter (in the Cleveland Museum of Art) depicts a naked woman, seen from behind, cast adrift in the waves, and in Fatata te miti he has reused the same subject, setting her within a Tahitian genre scene. In Ondine, Gauguin had treated the myth of the water-sprite who can only become human after having a child fathered by a man. Once again, he has explored the theme of the joy of sexual union as an essentially liberating activity, hinted at in the alternative title for The Loss of Virginity: The Awakening of Spring. In Fatata te miti the sexual abandonment is seen as part of the natural rhythm of Polynesian life (the two women do not appear perturbed at the presence of the fisherman in the background of the work), a notion that was integral to the highly popular Marriage of Loti, which Gauguin had read before visiting Tahiti and which was calculated to appeal to a Parisian audience.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.