With the portrait of his lover, a Javanese dancer named Annah, painted back in Paris, Gauguin broadened his repertoire of representations of women. In contrast to chastely clad girls in missionary-supplied dresses or islanders in their natural nakedness, Gauguin here presents a woman confidently aware of her sexuality posing in an interior furnished with exotic objects. The monkey at her feet may be a biographical reference, since Annah appeared with a little monkey in her performances. Traditionally, however, the monkey is also a symbol of sinfulness and vice. Gauguin’s play on the ambiguity of the motif was certainly deliberate, undertaken in the full knowledge that the image would scandalize the
conservative bourgeoisie of late 19th-century Paris.
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