Nafea faaipoipo (When Will You Marry?), 1892

The masterpiece When Will You Marry?, executed in Tahiti, shows two native young women in an unspoiled tropical landscape. By means of beautifully undulating lines, Gauguin simplifies their bodies into decorative forms that blend harmoniously into the vibrant planes of color making up their surroundings. The first woman, who is dressed in a loosefitting top with a low-cut neckline, leans invitingly forward. Her companion, by contrast, is chastely clad in a missionary’s dress and holds a plucked flower carefully between her fingers. To whom the question formulated in the title—“When will you marry?”—is addressed, they will not tell us. Only the flowers worn as decoration in their hair provide a symbolic clue. If a woman wears a flower behind her right ear, she is already spoken for. A flower tucked behind her left ear, on the other hand, means she can be wooed. Whether the second Tahitian wears a flower behind her left ear remains uncertain, however. In the background, at a substantial distance from the women, two more figures can be seen. What role they play in the pictorial narrative, we do not know. The complementary accents of color provided by their clothing—blue and orange—contribute directly, however, to the overall harmony of the painting.


Oil on canvas, 105 x 77,5 cm, Collection Rudolf Staechelin; Photo: Kunstmuseum Basel, Martin P. Bühler


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