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

Girl with a Fan

Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen

The sitter of this painting was Tohotaua, the wife of the witch-doctor at Hiva Oa. The figure is strangely isolated in space, staring impassively forward with the static quality and crisply delineated shadows that suggest a photographic source. Indeed, Gauguin used a photo when working on the portrait.

The model for this work reappeared in Contes Barbares, but the painting itself was based on a photograph of the woman taken in 1901 and found in Gauguin's effects after his death in Hiva Oa. Although the pose in the painted version is broadly similar to that in the photograph, Gauguin has made a number of important changes. Instead of coolly appraising the viewer as in the photograph, the woman here gazes into space. The pareo with which Tohotaua covered her breasts in the photograph, has been changed and the image becomes much more overtly erotic. The position of the fan has been moved slightly, so that it covers her right breast in a provocative fashion. In making these changes, Gauguin has constructed an image of an archetypal Polynesian woman, passive and sexually available.

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