Although Riders on the Beach (II) was painted on Hiva Oa, where Gauguin spent the last two years of his life, the artist clearly distances himself within it from the rugged mountains and black sandy shores that make up the Marquesan island’s actual landscape. These have given way to a wide, pink coral beach on which riders are meeting in front of the ocean breakers. For this supposedly exotic scene, however, Gauguin has based himself primarily upon Edgar Degas’ representations of race horses and jockeys produced decades earlier, and in this way allows Polynesian and European elements to converge. While the four riders in the foreground and middle ground and the person standing can be read as Marquesan islanders, the two hooded individuals mounted on grey horses in the background recall the demonic figures that embody the spirits of the dead in earlier pictures by Gauguin. The prospect of his own death would in fact confront the artist in 1903, the year after he executed this painting. He died on 8 May at the age of 54 in his house in Atuona.
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