By that time, having suffered several heart attacks, he was gravely unwell, and sought an unspoilt paradise to further inspire his work, which had been dismissed by critics back in Europe.
Apparent in this particular piece is the continued use of bold colors, strong lines and simplified forms that Gauguin had become famous for.
In 1891, after the commercial failure of one of his exhibitions, Gauguin visited Tahiti for the first time. He’d already given up his former life as a stockbroker, and had spent a summer painting alongside van Gogh, whose brother Theo was Gauguin’s art dealer.
However, after van Gogh became dangerously unstable (reportedly threatening Gauguin with a razor blade) Gauguin set sail for the South Pacific. Here he began to develop a new style that combined everyday observation with mystical symbolism, but also the so-called ‘primitive arts’ of Asia, Africa and French Polynesia.
The logical progression, perhaps, for an artist who liked to describe himself as a ‘savage’, and claimed he had ancient Inca blood running through his veins.
Stirred by his new, idyllic home Gauguin composed many works that, like ‘Tahiti’, feature lush, colorful landscapes. He also painted pieces that featured the same figures over and over again in different settings; for instance, the young women in ‘Two Talking Women,’ who would go on to appear in two other paintings in 1898 and 1899.
By now he was suffering from syphilis, yet between trips to the hospital was able to paint his acknowledged masterpiece, ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’
He died shortly afterwards, having become a major influence on a new generation of artists back in Paris, a city he’d been so determined to leave behind him.