The J. Paul Getty Museum

Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)

Object Details


Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)


Paul Gauguin (French, 1848 - 1903)




Tahiti (Place Created)




Oil on coarse fabric

Object Number:



45.1 × 74.3 cm (17 3/4 × 29 1/4 in.)

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Object Description

I have just finished a severed kanak [Pacific Islander] head, nicely arranged on a white cushion, in a palace of my invention and guarded by women also of my invention.
--Paul Gauguin

Writing to his friend Daniel de Monfreid, Paul Gauguin referenced in an almost offhand way this startling painting of a decapitated human head, which he made during his first stay in Polynesia in the early 1890s. Real events, from Tahitian King Pomare V's death soon after Gauguin's arrival, to the artist having witnessed a public execution by guillotine several years earlier, likely influenced its dark subject matter. Gauguin added the Tahitian words "Arii" and "Matamoe" in the canvas' upper left. The first means "noble;" the second, "sleeping eyes," a phrase that implies "death."

The notion of a human head ritually displayed in an ornate interior suggests the formality of a ruler lying in state, supported by the presence of sorrowful figures in the background. However, this scene doesn't correspond to actual accounts of Pomare V's funeral because the body wasn't decapitated. Gauguin was just as apt to fantasize about life in Polynesia as he was to document it. Bright reds, yellows, and pinks are juxtaposed with muted browns and purples to evoke a tropical sensibility. The rough, burlap-like canvas also hints at an exotic "primitivism." In his collage-illustrated book Noa Noa--which he began after his first trip to Tahiti--he included a copy of this painting and a comment that he thought of Pomare's death as a metaphor for the loss of native culture due to European colonization.

Symbolist artists, including Gauguin, had a predilection for images of decapitated heads and any associated figures, such as Orpheus and John the Baptist. But in a more general sense, Gauguin also freely mixed Eastern and Western imagery. His obsession with the theme of death, which appears throughout his Tahitian paintings, is less a reference to spiritual beliefs or to what he saw around him than perhaps more significantly, how he viewed himself. Gauguin thought of himself as a martyr victimized by modern society, which compelled him to escape to a "primitive" culture.

1892 - 1895

Paul Gauguin, French, 1848 - 1903 (Tahiti; Paris, France) [Gauguin sale, Sarrus, Bernheim Jeune, Paris, February 18, 1895, lot 22, unsold.]

- 1929

Henry Lerolle, French, 1848 - 1929 (Paris, France), by inheritance to his wife, Madame Henry Lerolle.

1929 - still in 1936

Madeleine (Escudier) Lerolle, French, 1856 - 1937 (Paris, France)

after 1936 - before 1940

Emile Roche, French, 1893 - 1990 (Paris, France), sold to Georges Leven "before the war."
Source: JPGM, Paintings Department curatorial files, letter of Gustave Leven to Daniel Malingue, September 10, 2002.

by 1940 - 1941

Georges Leven, French, died 1941 (Paris, France; Geneva, Switzerland), by inheritance to his heirs, 1941.
Source: JPGM, Paintings Department curatorial files, letter of Gustave Leven to Daniel Malingue, September 10, 2002.

1941 - before 1945

Family Heirs of Georges Leven, French, died 1941 (Geneva, Switzerland), consigned during the war years to "a gallery in Geneva."
Source: JPGM, Paintings Department curatorial files, letter of Gustave Leven to Daniel Malingue, September 10, 2002.

before 1945 -

Unknown gallery (Geneva, Switzerland)

after 1945 - 2008

Private Collection (Geneva, Switzerland), sold through Daniel Malingue (Paris) to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008.
Source: Daniel Malingue, who has indicated that the picture had not left Switzerland since WWII.

Exposition Paul Gauguin (November 1893)
Exposition des peintres impressionnistes (February 25 to March 29, 1904)
  • La Libre Esthétique (Brussels), February 25 to March 29, 1904
Paul Gauguin (February 7 to February 28, 1931)
  • Le Portique (Paris), February 7 to February 28, 1931
Réhabilitation du sujet (November 17 to December 9, 1934)
  • Galerie A. Seligmann (Paris), November 17 to December 9, 1934
Exhibition of Masters of French 19th Century Painting (October 1 to October 31, 1936)
  • New Burlington Galleries (London), October 1 to October 31, 1936
Ecole de Paris (February 27 to March 31, 1946)
  • Kunsthalle Bern, February 27 to March 31, 1946
Gauguin (June 10 to November 22, 1998)
  • Fondation Pierre Gianadda (Martigny), June 10 to November 22, 1998
Paul Gauguin: Maker of Myth (September 30, 2010 to May 30, 2011)
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), February 21 to May 30, 2011
Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise (September 24, 2011 to April 29, 2012)
  • Seattle Art Museum (Seattle), February 9 to April 29, 2012
Gauguin: Tales from Paradise (October 28, 2015 to February 21, 2016)
  • Museo delle Culture (Milan), October 28, 2015 to February 21, 2016
Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist (June 25, 2017 to January 21, 2018)
  • The Art Institute of Chicago, June 25 to September 10, 2017
  • Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris), October 9, 2017 to January 21, 2018
Gauguin: Portraits (May 24, 2019 to January 26, 2020)
  • The National Gallery (London), October 9, 2019 to January 26, 2020
Getty Highlights: 19th-Century Paintings and Sculptures (October 19, 2021 to January 9, 2022)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 19, 2021 to January 9, 2022

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