Three figures look out at us from a mysterious nocturnal setting: in front, a young woman whose red hair stands out luminously against the shadowy and at the same time luxuriant background. Her name is Tohotaua, and Gauguin also painted this Polynesian beauty in other works, such as Woman with a Fan. Behind her is an apparently androgynous figure who has adopted the Buddhist lotus position and seems to sit motionless in this pose. Most striking of all, however, is the sandy-haired man crouching in the background, who fixes us with his piercing green eyes. He is Gauguin’s friend, the Dutch painter Jacob Meyer de Haan, who died in 1895. With his penetrating stare and claw-like toes, he instils fear and lends the work an unsettling note. The enigmatic title, Primitive Tales, further underlines the cryptic, obscure mood of the painting.
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