The Moon and the Earth is Gauguin's depiction of an ancient Polynesian myth, which he had read in the accounts of the early-nineteenth-century Dutch explorer J. A. Moerenhout. According to the myth, Hina, the female spirit of the Moon, implores Fatou, the male spirit of the Earth, to grant humans eternal life. It is a request Fatou resolutely denies.

Gauguin's depiction of Hina and Fatou—marked by a great disparity in the figures' size, scale, and coloration—seems to reflect their ancient quarrel. In the foreground, Hina's nude figure is in full view, while Fatou, rendered from the chest up, looms larger than life in the background. But there is no middle ground; the distance between them appears impassable.

In 1891, Gauguin abandoned Europe for the French colony of Tahiti, where he expected to find a paradise free of "everything that is artificial and conventional." What he found, however, was far from his utopian ideal. Poverty was rampant, the colonial authorities corrupt, and the native population—far from being untouched—had largely converted to Christianity. Gauguin was beset by persistent poor health and financial problems the entirety of his three-year stay. Despite these disappointments, the artist persevered in painting visions of island life steeped in so-called "primitive" mystery and rich in natural beauty.


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The Moon and the Earth (Supplemental)

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