Tahiti, a journey through Gauguin's imagination

If we look at the colorful paintings of the French painter Paul Gauguin, we can easily transport ourselves to the magical and exotic French Polynesia.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 March 2024 Monday 10:32
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Tahiti, a journey through Gauguin's imagination

If we look at the colorful paintings of the French painter Paul Gauguin, we can easily transport ourselves to the magical and exotic French Polynesia. He lived there between 1891 and 1903, allowing himself to be seduced by the colors, shapes and exuberance of Tahiti's landscapes. The women with black hair and brown skin, the tiare flowers that adorn his head and the charm of the wild, completely captivated him, and his paintings are the reflection of his love for this country in the middle of the Peaceful.

A place that many would like to travel to sometime in their lives, and why not, perhaps it is no longer so wild and hotels and cruises are part of the current horizon, but that does not mean it has lost the vital spirit of its first inhabitants. From the moment you set foot on this land, the locals welcome the visitor with a flower necklace and an Ia Ora na e manava (hello and welcome).

Paul Gauguin arrived in Papeete in 1891, the capital of French Polynesia. Ruined and fed up with refined French society, he was looking to find something different, an untamed and wild place that would inspire him, and he believed this was the place. Today, the capital has paved streets but the lushness of the palm trees, trees and plants reminds us that we are on a tropical island. The shacks have given way to low buildings, small shopping centers and a spectacular port where you can stroll during the day and enjoy at night.

The Papeete market is also colorful, where flower stalls and fresh local food accumulate. This is a good place to have breakfast and taste the flavors of the fruits that the painter immortalized in his paintings, such as in The Food. And to remember the colonial past, nothing better than a visit to the Town Hall (Mairie de Papeete), built as a replica of Queen Pomare's palace. At dusk locals and tourists mix around the food stalls in Vaiete Square, Asian and French food, even pizza, but the unmissable dish is the poisson cru, which consists of finely chopped raw bluefin tuna, with lime juice, bathed in coconut milk with carrots, onion, cucumber and tomatoes.

Once outside the city, the landscapes painted by the artist appear, white or black sand beaches, waterfalls, green mountains and many flowers, as if time had stopped in the 19th century. He spent six months in Papeete, but it looked too much like his native France, so he moved to the Mataiea area, one of the smaller communes on the other side of the island. Here he painted more than 70 of his works, some as famous as Women of Tahiti or When are you going to get married? In the villa you can visit the Vaipahi water gardens, spectacular, with walking paths and discover numerous botanical species and aquatic plants, it is the place where nature is most alive, as Gauguin knew it.

In 1893 he returned to Paris with his paintings that were not appreciated, so in 1895 he returned and settled in Punaauia, on the west coast of the island. There he built a hut whose dirt road took him by car to the capital, today it is a busy highway. Now there are also huts, but they are luxury lodges located on the sea, the contrast with the blue of the ocean and the green of the mountains that surround them seems taken from a canvas. Here the men continue to be tattooed as a symbol of their identity, and the women dance the ori Tahiti, traditional dances that have been banned for a long time.

But the painter was looking for something different, wilder, and he believed he would find it in the Marquesas Islands, so in 1901 he took a passage on the Croix de Sud and moved to Atuona, on the island of Hiva Oa, where he died at the age of 55. on May 8, 1903. The island is home to wild nature that extends to infinity and the town is located at the foot of the spectacular Mount Temetiu. He had a house built, the Maison du Jouir (the House of Pleasure), where he set up his workshop. A building that has been recently rebuilt and is part of a museum dedicated to his work.

His grave is located in the Calvary Cemetery and is one of the tourist spots on the island. The landscape of green hills, deep valleys and black sand beaches is perfect for hiking or a picnic, and among its treasures is me' ae in Puama'u, an archaeological site where you can see majestic tikis sculpted in volcanic stone, symbols of art and spirituality of the Marquesas. Crafts, culture and gastronomy are a living symbol of the islands' heritage.