Monday, September 6, 2010

Color of Paradise

“I have come to the unalterable decision—

to go and live forever in Polynesia.

Then I can end my days in peace and freedom.

Without thoughts of to-morrow and this

eternal struggle against idiots.”

Paul Gauguin, October 1894

So off he went. It was his first trip to Tahiti, lasting from 1891 to 1893. The paintings from Gauguin’s days in Polynesia are the ones that most of us immediately identify with his name. The work has a sense of serenity, and about them he wrote in his journal: ‘It is indeed life outdoors, but however in the forest, forgotten streams, women whispering in an immense palace decorated by nature itself, with all the wealth hidden in Tahiti. Hence all the fabulous colors, the blazing but filtered and silent atmosphere.’

Paul Gauguin died in the Marquesas Islands in 1903 in poverty. Though his paintings from the Polynesia years glow with the spirit of his genius, the last years were difficult ones. His health was poor and he found himself in trouble with the government for inciting the natives not to pay taxes, nor to send their children to schools that taught only evil.

Gauguin’s journal of Polynesia is a magnificent document, and thanks to John Miller and Chronicle Books we have access to that journal in a translation published in 1994. The illustrated journal is called Noa Noa, which in English means ‘fragrant, fragrant.’ This volume reunites the journals with the original etchings, as Gauguin intended. The final lines in Noa Noa are…

Ye gentle breezes of the south and east

That join in tender play above my head,

Hasten to the neighboring isle.

There you will find in the shadows of his favorite tree,

Him who has abandoned me.

Tell him that you have seen me weep.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America