Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)

Object Details

Title:

Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)

Artist/Maker(s):

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848 - 1903)

Culture:

French

Place(s):

Tahiti (Place created)

Date:

1892

Medium:

Oil on coarse fabric

Dimensions:

45.1 x 74.3 cm (17 3/4 x 29 1/4 in.)

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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.

Provenance
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

Madame Henry Lerolle, 1856 - 1937 (Paris, France)

after 1936 - before 1940

Emile Roche, French, 1893 - 1990 (Paris, France), sold to Georges Leven "before the war"

by 1940 - 1941

Georges Leven, French, died 1941 (Paris, France; Geneva, Switzerland), by inheritance to his heirs, 1941

1941 - before 1945

Family Heirs of Georges Leven, French, died 1941 (Geneva, Switzerland), consigned during the war years to "a gallery in Geneva"

before 1945 -

Unknown gallery (Geneva, Switzerland)

after 1945 -

Private Collection (Geneva, Switzerland), sold through Daniel Malingue (Paris) to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008

Exhibitions
Exposition Paul Gauguin (November 1893) (Cat. 12; as "Arii matamoe (La fin royale)")
  • Galeries Durand-Ruel (Paris), November to November, 1893
Exposition des peintres impressionistes (February 25 to March 29, 1904) (Cat. 56)
  • Musée d'Art Moderne (Brussels), February 25 to March 29, 1904
Paul Gauguin (February 7 to February 28, 1931) (Cat. 18)
  • Le Portique, (Paris), February 7 to February 28, 1931
Réhabilitation du sujet (November 17 to December 9, 1934) (Cat. 56)
  • Galerie A. Seligmann, (Paris), November 17 to December 9, 1934
Exhibition of Masters of French 19th Century Painting (October 1 to October 31, 1936) (Cat. 100)
  • New Burlington Galleries, (London), October 1 to October 31, 1936
Ecole de Paris (February 27 to March 31, 1946) (Cat. 7)
  • Kunsthalle Bern, February 27 to March 31, 1946
Gauguin (June 10 to November 22, 1998) (87)
  • Fondation Pierre Gianadda, (Martigny), June 10 to November 22, 1998
Paul Gauguin: Maker of Myth (September 30, 2010 to May 30, 2011) (Cat. 117)
  • 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) (Cat. 181)
  • Seattle Art Museum, (Seattle), February 9 to April 29, 2012
Bibliography

Rathbone, Eliza E., and George T. M. Shackelford. Impressionist Still Life, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: Phillips Collection, with Harry N. Abrams, 2001), p. 182, entry by George T. M. Shackelford.

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