Gauguin's Skirt

Stephen F. Eisenman


Gauguin’s Skirt is about contemporary Tahitians and a long-dead French painter, sex today and sex in the late nineteenth century, and colonialism new and old. Written on the boundary between art history and anthropology, it enters the domains of biography and mystery. Gauguin went to Tahiti in search of an exotic paradise. What he found was a French colony divided by race, sex, and class. Gauguin’s works depict Tahitians at labor and leisure, and the fecund landscape of Polynesia; they also expose the contradictory perspective of an artist exiled both from the modern French metropolis and from the secrets of the indigenous Maohi culture. Drawing upon extensive archival and ethnographic research in France and Tahiti, Stephen Eisenman challenges interpretations of the political and gender content of the notorious artist’s pictures. He compares European and Polynesian sexualities and spiritualities, and argues that many of Gauguin’s most famous pictures are far more knowing than had previously been supposed.


Stephen F. Eisenman


Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University