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

Mahana no atua (The Day of the God)

Oil on canvas, 66 x 108 cm
Art Institute, Chicago

In the two years that Gauguin spent in Paris between his trips to Tahiti he was occupied with a number of different projects, including the exhibition of his recent work at Durand-Ruel's and the writing of Noa Noa. All this left him little time to seek out new motifs, and he fell back on favourite themes in an attempt to consolidate his exotic reputation. Mahana no atua was probably painted immediately after his exhibition and represents a fictionalised version of life in Tahiti, akin to that which he was creating for Noa Noa which drew largely on Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout's Voyages aux Iles de Grand Ocean (first published in 1837) and which furnished Gauguin with ideas for his writings, paintings and carvings.

The figure of the god in the centre of the composition, around which the work revolves, is a composite of Moerenhout's description of figures from Easter Island and those from Borobudur, of which he had photographs. The ritualistic aspect of the scene is enhanced by the use of a frieze-like arrangement of figures and by the work's esoteric nature.

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