Tomorrow, Lauren and I will fly to Tahiti via LAX. We are going with Dr. Chuck Swindoll and the Insight for Living bunch. We will be traveling on a beautiful 4-master, beginning in Papeete and then sailing northwest to Bora Bora. We have never been to Tahiti or anywhere close to the other paradise islands in French Polynesian Archipelago.
Tahiti exerts a romantic tug for a lot of folks. Part of the reason for the exotic allure grows out of our familiarity with the great artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and his bold renderings of raven-haired Tahitian women.
In 1891 Gauguin left France behind (along with what Gauguin believed to be its repressive conventions) and moved to Tahiti, where he lived with native islanders far outside the capital, Papeete.
Gauguin’s striking use of color and symbolism in his Tahitian paintings set him apart from his French contemporaries by an aesthetic distance equal to the physical distance that separated Papeete from Paris. Some of his major works include La Orana Maria (1891), Tahitian women on Beach, (1891), The Seed of the Areoi (1892), Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897), and Two Tahitian Women (1899).
I have seen many of his masterpieces hanging in major museums around the world: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. You can find some of his other works in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The geographical distribution of his work is impressive.
Some folks consider it a shame that not a single original Gauguin painting remains in French Polynesia. The Gauguin Museum on the main island of Tahiti, displays only reproductions of his work.
I don’t share that sentiment. Why restrict Gauguin’s work to his adopted home? It’s out there as it should be, available to a foreign population, the vast majority of which would never have had the opportunity to view his masterworks in person were they kept in Tahiti.
Still, for all its glory, Gauguin’s vision of Tahiti is self indulgent. Theosophism and native Polynesian religions limited the great Gauguin to a selfish and egotistical exploration of all that Tahiti could provide with its natural beauty and its exotic sensuality. Many of Gauguin’s masterworks reflect exquisitely his allegiance to the carnal appetites of the god he beheld in the mirror.
Having seen and appreciated many of Gauguin’s paintings, I look forward to experiencing the real Tahiti, up close and unfiltered by another artist’s point of view. I want to draw my own conclusions. To interpret the beauty of the islands from my own perspective. As Christians we enjoy a an increased capacity for distinguishing the beauty of creation from the beatific Creator of nature. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to celebrate the infinite beauty of the Divine Artist even more than His masterworks of creation.
While we will enjoy the beauty of the islands, our allegiance and our deepest appreciation are to the One who, by the power of His Word, called all things into being—including Tahiti.