Te Nave, Nave Fenua (The Delightful Land) – Paul Gauguin

Te Nave, Nave Fenua [The Delightful Land] | Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) | Watercolour monotype | 19th century | The Hunt Collection | PD MG 147

Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) is perhaps best known for his colourful and stylised paintings of Brittany and Tahiti. During his first visit to Tahiti in 1891 he produced a romanticised account of his travels, ‘Noa Noa’ (Fragrance), which he planned to publish on his return to France. ’Te nave nave fenua’ (The Delighted Land) is one of the images intended to illustrate the publication. 

Gauguin exhibited a painting of the subject in Paris in 1893, which he then adapted first as a print and then in a series of drawings and monotypes. With the aim both to shock and titillate, the painting posits a confrontation of Christian and Polynesian cultures. 

The young nude girl, with a flying lizard hovering beside her face, is interpreted as a Tahitian Eve, a free translation of the theme of temptation in a tropical setting. Her sidelong glance engages enigmatically with the monster. In an oil painting of the subject, the lizard has dramatic red wings, mutated here into the rose-tinted wash. Similarly, the exotic landscape is reduced in this monotype to a delicate composition of horizontal grey lines that hint at the fantastically foliated setting, highlighted with touches of pink, mauve and blue wash, The watercolour is signed, lower left, with the artist’s stamp, ‘PGO’.  

Paul Gauguin, photography, ca. 1891
Collection Musée départemental Maurice Denis