If my work must be limited to watercolor, pastel, or anything else all the spirit goes out of it ... I have at this moment a series of experimental drawings that I'm fairly pleased with. I'm sending you a small specimen; it's like an impression and yet it isn't. Thick ink replaces pencil, that's all...
Near the end of his life in isolated French Polynesia, Gauguin invented his own technique to produce this unique, double-sided image. Both sides depict a young Tahitian woman as Eve in the Garden of Eden, surrounded by the Devil as a snake, a dark figure on horseback, and a fallen Adam. One side of the drawing consists of fine blue and black lines. Those markings are not only flipped or mirrored on the other side, but appear thicker and darker amid murky patches of black and ocher ink. This more colorful and detailed side was probably what Gauguin intended viewers to see.
On its surface, Gauguin's experimental drawing looks primitive and casually made. However, its rough appearance belies a very sophisticated work, with nuanced mark-making and carefully aligned applications of color. The closest analogy to Gauguin's process might be the act of writing or drawing on carbon paper, which transfers marks to underlying pages.
Gauguin coated a piece of paper with printer's ink. He placed another sheet of paper–what was to become this drawing–on top of it and drew the initial composition with black pencil. Then he blocked-in shading with ocher ink. Third, he strengthened the outlines with blue crayon. The pressure applied by the drawing instruments transferred ink to the underside of the sketched paper. For these successive "printings," Gauguin had to change out the original sheet of inked paper and allow the drawing to dry, at least partially, between passes of ink. Last, he took a brush dipped in solvent and blended some areas of the drawing, most notably behind the figure of Eve.
Gauguin's long-term obsession with the biblical story of "the fall of man" enabled him to explore dual themes such as good and evil in a single work. As with many of his images, the way that Gauguin used symbols–their context and juxtaposition–complicate interpretation. For example, although Eve gazes directly at the viewer, it is difficult to tell whether her expression is confident or baleful. Her awkward gestures, one hand holding a cloth to her genitals and the other against her cheek, perhaps indicate shameful awareness of her sinful actions.
This particular Eve and the head of a hooded figure behind her originate from a drawing Gauguin made at least eight years earlier. He repeatedly incorporated these exact motifs into subsequent paintings and woodcuts. In this case also, the horse behind Eve may be inspired by a frieze design from the Parthenon, which Gauguin had in his collection of source materials brought from Europe. The hooded rider incorporates some of Gauguin's own features, and may also symbolize Death.