Who is Paul Gauguin? Where does the myth of "the artist" end and "the real man" begin? It is these questions Abigail Solomon-Godeau explores in her article "Going Native: Paul Gauguin and the Invention of Primitivist Modernism." The story of Gauguin's life is shrouded in mystery. Much of this is due to Gauguin's attempt to present himself as a savage to the bourgeois French society. In order to find answers to these questions Solomon-Godeau looks at the historical facts of Gauguin's life. .
In 1883 Gauguin departed from his family life and the materialism of society in search of a more pure culture. It is during these first few years that he began to present himself as a savage through correspondences with friends and in his art. He immersed himself in archaic customs in order to return to the primitive. Gauguin claimed to have "returned to origins" both artistically and spiritually. His quest eventually leads him to Tahiti. .
While he had imagined Tahiti as a sensual paradise it was, in reality, much different. Many parts of Tahitian culture, such as religion, had already been westernized. European products brought over by missionaries had also influenced textiles, music, and food. By the time Gauguin had arrived barely anything remained of the original Tahitian culture. In spite of all this he still presented himself to the European market as being immersed in the native society. One way he attempted to do this was to give his works native titles. When in fact he never learned the language and many were grammatically incorrect.
Like other Symbolist artists of his time Gauguin started portraying their feelings of the opposite sex through their art. One of the most demoralizing virtues of Gauguin's primitive art are his depictions of his young Tahitian mistresses. Gauguin tried to show a natural innocence to his sexual relationships with teenage girls. He described the female Maori body as being more mature than that of European girls.