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A young winged female figure stands next to an animal-like figure with bright white eyes on the lower left.

A brown skinned female figure stands semi-nude with a blue garment wrapped around her waist. She faces us with her head in three-quarter view, looking to lower right, mouth closed. Long dark hair falls behind her shoulders, blue wings behind. Her left arm is across her waist and the right arm bends at the elbow, hand in benediction gesture. The seated animal-like figure to her left has a broad nose and closed mouth, faces us and staring ahead. The background painted in warm hues, varies from yellow to orange, with yellow emanating from the top of the animal figure’s head.

Gallery Text

Gauguin’s model for this painting was likely Pau’ura a Tai, a 14-year-old girl whom the artist described as his “native wife” while living in Tahiti in the 1890s. Widelycriticized today, the painter’s sexual relationships with local adolescents were also condemned by some of his contem poraries in French Polynesia. The painting maybe a response to the 1896 death in infancy of Gauguin’s daughter with Pau’ura a Tai. The figure’s wings, posture, and drapery evoke representations of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. But instead of cradling a baby in her left arm, she protectively clutches her abdomen, emphasizing her loss. Reinforcing this narrative of birth and death is the presence at lower left of Ta’aroa, the Tahitian creator of the universe. Pau’ura a Tai averts her gaze from the deity, who Gauguin anthropomorphizes in an unusually childlike form. The girl’s downcast stare, coupled with her exposed chest, underscores the powerimbalance between artist and sitter.

Below the Surface

An X-radiograph of this painting reveals a different image beneath the surface. It confirms that Gauguin first painted a horizontal landscape with riders on galloping horses before turning the canvas and repainting it with the composition of Poèmes Barbares. The pigments that the artist used for the underlying landscape are denser than those used on the surface layer. As a result, they block X-rays more effectively, leaving a brighter imprint on the radiograph. Gauguin was frequently short on supplies in Tahiti, so it’s possible he sacrificed one painting to create another. The landscape imagery of the underpainting relates to several pastoral scenes that Gauguin executed during this period—perhaps he felt comfortable abandoning one of his more common compositions to produce a work that marked the birth and death of his child.

[x-radiograph image]

Identification and Creation

Object Number
1951.49
People
Paul Gauguin, French (Paris 1848 - 1903 Fatu-Iwa [Marquesas Islands])
Title
Poèmes Barbares
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Savage Poems
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
1896
Culture
French
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/229043

Location

Location
Level 1, Room 1220, European Art, 19th–20th century, Collection of Maurice Wertheim, Class of 1906
View this object's location on our interactive map

Physical Descriptions

Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
64.8 x 48.3 cm (25 1/2 x 19 in.)
framed: 97.8 x 81.9 x 5.8 cm (38 1/2 x 32 1/4 x 2 5/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: u.l.: P Gauguin 96
  • inscription: upper left, inscribed, French: Poemes Barbares
  • inscription: verso (stretcher), handwritten in white chalk: 33E7[?]
  • inscription: verso (stretcher), handwritten in red ink: 4[encircled]
  • inscription: verso (stretcher), handwritten in graphite: Wertheim
  • inscription: verso (stretcher), handwritten in graphite two times: 10133F
  • inscription: verso (stretcher), handwritten in graphite: #125A[underlined]
  • inscription: verso (stretcher), handwritten in red chalk: 188
  • stamp: verso (stretcher), black ink: DE Hauke & CO., Inc. / 3 East 51st Street, New York
  • inscription: verso (stretcher), stencilled letters and numbers in bright red (repeated on frame): L.40.22.1
  • inscription: verso (frame), handwritten in blue crayon: RNN 3496
  • label: verso (frame), red-bordered label: 1626[underlined] / 1
  • label: verso (frame), decorative blue-bordered label: 2250[underlined] / [2 lines of numbers rubbed off] / 86

Provenance

Recorded Ownership History
On consignment with George-Daniel de Monfried, Paris, April 1897. Unidentified owner, Paris, sold; [through Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 16, 1906, no 30]; to [Galerie Eugene Druet, Paris]. Dr. Alfred Wolff, Munich, (c. 1908 to 1912). Sir Michael Sadler, England, (1912 until at least 1926). [De Hauke & Co., New York], sold; to A. Conger Goodyear, New York, (1929-1937) sold; [through Wildenstein & Co., New York]; to Maurice Wertheim, New York (1937-1951) bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1951.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest from the Collection of Maurice Wertheim, Class of 1906
Accession Year
1951
Object Number
1951.49
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
Permissions

THIS WORK HAS SIGNIFICANT LOAN RESTRICTIONS BY THE TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION TO THE HARVARD ART MUSEUMS.

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Publication History

  • Exposition Internationale, exh. cat. (Cologne, Germany, 1912), no. 167
  • F. Burger, Cézanne und Hodler (Munich, Germany, 1913), vol. I, p. 82; vol. II, pl. 31
  • Paul Gauguin, Lettres à Daniel de Monfreid (Paris, France, 1919), see letter dated Feb 14 1897
  • Charles Morice, Paul Gauguin, Henri Floury (Paris, France, 1919), repr. in b/w facing p. 106
  • Important Pictures by 19th Century French Masters, exh. cat., Leicester Galleries (London, England, 1924), no. 59
  • Starr Figura, First Loan Exhibition: Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY, 1929), no. 47
  • Arsène Alexandre and Bernheim-Jeune, Paul Gauguin, sa vie et le sens de son oeuvre (Paris, France, 1930), p. 182, repr. p. 167
  • Arsène Alexandre, The World's Masters (New York, NY, 1930), repr. pl. xxiv
  • Reginald H. Wilenski, French Painting, Hale, Cushman & Flint, Inc. (Boston, MA, 1931), p. 289
  • Cézanne-Gauguin, exh. cat., Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, OH, 1936), no. 6
  • Paul Gauguin, Intimates Journales (New York, NY, 1936), repr. p. 29
  • Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903, exh. cat., Harbor Press (New York, NY, 1936), no. 33
  • Retrospective Loan Exhibition of Works by Paul Gauguin, exh. cat., Wildenstein Galleries (New York, NY, 1936), no. 34
  • C. J. Bulliet, The Significant Moderns and their Pictures (New York, NY, 1936), repr. pl. 79
  • Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH, 1936), no. 280
  • Pola Gauguin, My Father Paul Gauguin (New York, NY, 1937), ill. opp. p. 217
  • John Rewald, Gauguin, French and European Publications (New York and Paris, 1938), repr. p. 117
  • The Complete Graphic Work and a Selection of Paintings by Paul Gauguin, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn, NY, 1938)
  • Edward Alden Jewell, French Impressionists and Their Contemporaries in American Collections, Hyperion Press (New York, NY, 1944), repr. p. 162
  • Alfred M. Frankfurter, "Today's Collectors: Modern Milestones", Art News (June 1946), vol. XLV, no. 4, p. 64
  • A loan exhibition of Paul Gauguin, for the benefit of the New York Infirmary, exh. cat., Wildenstein Galleries (New York, NY, 1946), no. 31
  • French Painting since 1870, lent by Maurice Wertheim, Class of 1906, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1946), pp. 38-41, repr. p. 39
  • Six Masters of Post-Impressionism, exh. cat., Wildenstein & Company (New York, NY, 1948), no. 16
  • La Peinture Française Depuis 1870: Collection Maurice Wertheim, exh. cat., Tom Taylor (Québec, Canada, 1949), no. 16, pp. 45-47
  • Lee van Dovski, Paul Gauguin oder die Flucht vor der zivi-lojation, Olten (Bern, Switzerland, 1950), no. 328
  • Bernard Dorival, "Sources of the Art of Gauguin from Java, Egypt, and Ancient Greece", The Burlington Magazine (April 1951), vol. XCIII, p. 118
  • Howard Devree, "By French Masters: The Metropolitan Shows Wertheim Collection", The New York Times (New York, NY, July 6 1952), p. 6, p. 6
  • Marshall B. Davidson, Gauguin, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1953), repr. in color
  • Almanac Stuttgart, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Stuttgart, Germany, 1955), repr.
  • Charles Gorham, Und das Gold ihrer Körper ; das abenteuerliche Leben Paul Gauguins., Holle Verlage Gmblt (Baden-Baden, Germany, 1955), ill.
  • René Huyghe, Gauguin, Crown Publishers Inc. (New York, NY, 1959), repr. p. 82
  • John Canaday, Mainstreams of Modern Art, Henry Holt and Co. (New York, NY, 1959), p. 386, repr. p. 384
  • The Maurice Wertheim Catalogue: Modern French Art-- Monet to Picasso, exh. cat., North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh, NC, 1960), p. 14, repr. p. 15
  • René Huyghe, Gauguin, Antonio Vallardi (Milan, Italy, 1962), pp. 145-146
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection: Manet to Picasso, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX, 1962), p. 18, pl. 4
  • Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin, Beaux-Arts (Paris, France, 1964), no. 547
  • René Huyghe, Sens et destin de l'art, Flammarion (Paris, France, 1966), repr.
  • Sidney Finkelstein, Der Junge Picasso, VEB Verlag der Kunst (Dresden, Germany, 1970), repr. as no. 63
  • Wayne V. Anderson, Gauguin's Paradise Lost, Viking Press (New York, NY, 1971), repr.
  • Nathan Knobler, The Visual Dialogue: An Introduction to the Appreciation of Art, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (New York, NY, 1971), repr. fig. 12
  • G. M. Sugana, L'Opera Completa di Gauguin (Milan, Italy, 1972), no. 373
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, exh. cat., Maine State Museum (Augusta, ME, 1972), no. 10
  • Jean-Luc Duval, Le Journal de l'Art Moderne, Skira (Geneva, Switzerland, 1973), p. 146
  • Mary Lynn Zink, "Gauguin's 'Poemes Barbares' and the Tahitian Chant of Creation", Art Journal (Fall 1978), vol. 38, pp. 18-21
  • Frances Spalding, Roger Fry, Art and Life, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA, 1980)
  • Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Gauguin's Religious Themes, Garland Publishers, Inc. (New York, NY and London, England, 1985), repr. in b/w as no. 192
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 223, p. 195, repr. in b/w
  • John O'Brian, Degas to Matisse: the Maurice Wertheim Collection, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. and Fogg Art Museum (New York, NY and Cambridge, MA, 1988), no. 20, pp. 95-97, repr. in color
  • René Huyghe, Gauguin, Crown Publishers Inc. (New York, NY, 1988), repr. in color p. 73
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 95, color plate; pp. 108, 257, repr. b/w cat. no. 390
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection and Selected Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings and Drawings in the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1990), repr. in color no. 26, p. 83
  • Karen A. Signell, Frauenträume, Walter-Verlag (Solothurn and Düsseldorf, Germany, 1995), repr. in color on cover
  • Georg-W. Költzsch, ed., Paul Gauguin: Das verlorene Paradies, DuMont Buchverlag (Köln, Germany, 1998), no. 36, p. 174
  • Manfred Dierks, Das Dunkle Gesicht, Artemis & Winkler Publishing (Dusseldorf and Zurich, 1999), repr. in color on cover
  • Suzanne Greub, ed., Gauguin, Polynesia, exh. cat., Hirmer Verlag (Munich, Germany, 2011), repr. p. 219 as fig. 201
  • Elizabeth M. Rudy, "Researching the Wertheim Collection at the Harvard Art Museums", Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals (Summer 2014), Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 301-6
  • June Hargrove, Gauguin, Éditions Citadelles & Mazenod (Paris, 2017), ill. 360
  • "Art Conservation: New Ways to Go Beneath the Surface", Auction Central News, Live Auctioneers (https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/be-smart/going-beyond-the-surface-of-paintings/, 2020)
  • "Going Beyond the Surface", Auction Central News, LiveAuctioneers ([e-journal], August 25, 2020), https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/be-smart/going-beyond-the-surface-of-paintings/, accessed August 26, 2020
  • Maggie Galloway, "Uncovering a hidden composition behind Gauguin's 'Poèmes Barbares''', Field Notes, Northwestern University ([e-journal], April 21, 2021), https://scienceforart.northwestern.edu/field-notes-events/articles/2021/uncovering-a-hidden-composition-behind-gauguins-po%C3%A8mes-barbares.html, accessed June 29, 2021
  • Sophie Lynford and Kate Smith, "Introducing the Art + Science Pathway", Index Magazine, Harvard Art Museums (May 27, 2022), https://harvardartmuseums.org/article/introducing-the-art-science-pathway, accessed July 22, 2022
  • Liangkai Chou, Clio Refigured: Essays on the Visual Representations of History and Public History, National Taiwan Normal University (Taipei, 2023), p. 177, repr.

Exhibition History

  • Manet and the Post-Impressionists, Grafton Galleries, London, 11/05/1910
  • Exposition Internationale, [Unknown venue, Cologne], Cologne, 01/01/1912 - 12/31/1912
  • Post-Impressionist Pictures and Drawings, [Unknown venue, Leeds], Leeds, 01/01/1913 - 12/31/1913
  • Important Pictures by 19th Century French Masters, Leicester Galleries, London, 01/01/1924 - 12/31/1924
  • First Loan Exhibition: Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 11/01/1929 - 11/30/1929
  • Summer Exhibition, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 05/01/1932 - 09/01/1932
  • 20th Anniversary Exhibition, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 01/01/1936 - 12/31/1936
  • Retrospective Exhibition of Works by Paul Gauguin, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 03/20/1936 - 04/18/1936
  • Paul Gauguin, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 05/01/1936 - 05/21/1936
  • Cézanne-Gauguin, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, 11/01/1936 - 12/13/1936
  • The Complete Graphic Work and a Selection of Paintings by Paul Gauguin, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, 06/17/1938 - 10/02/1938
  • A Loan Exhibition of Paul Gauguin, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 04/03/1946 - 05/04/1946
  • French Painting since 1870 lent by Maurice Wertheim, Class of 1906, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/1946 - 09/07/1946; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 07/01/1953 - 09/13/1953
  • Six Masters of Post-Impressionism, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 04/08/1948 - 05/08/1948
  • La Peinture Française depuis 1870, Musée de la Province de Quebec, 07/12/1949 - 08/07/1949
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 07/01/1952 - 09/14/1952
  • French Paintings Since 1870 from the Maurice Wertheim Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 06/01/1953 - 09/30/1953
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 06/15/1957 - 09/15/1957
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 06/10/1958 - 08/31/1958
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection: Modern French Art--Monet to Picasso, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, 06/17/1960 - 09/04/1960
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection: Manet to Picasso, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, 06/13/1962 - 09/02/1962
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 06/20/1963 - 09/01/1963
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, 06/24/1965 - 09/07/1965
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, 09/03/1968 - 09/22/1968
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, Montgomery Museum of Art, Montgomery, 06/01/1971 - 09/30/1971
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection, Maine State Museum, Augusta, 06/01/1972 - 09/01/1972
  • Manet to Matisse: The Maurice Wertheim Collection, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, New York, 04/09/1985 - 05/25/1985
  • Masterpieces of European Art, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 06/22/1985 - 09/15/1985
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection and Selected Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings and Drawings in the Fogg Art Museum, Isetan Department Store, Tokyo, 03/01/1990 - 04/10/1990; Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, 04/14/1990 - 05/13/1990
  • Paul Gauguin: das Verlorene Paradies, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, 10/31/1998 - 01/10/1999
  • Re-View: S427 Impressionist & Postimpressionist Art, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/02/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • 32Q: 1220 Wertheim, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • ReFrame

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Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu