In his book Noa Noa Gauguin describes his experience of Tahiti and its inhabitants on his arrival in 1891. He describes the woman in the portrait thus: “She was not pretty – at least not by European standards – but beautiful.”
Disillusioned with Europe and the Western art scene Gauguin took his leave and went in search of a new beginning in the Pacific Islands. The era’s passion for “the primitive” took hold of him, possibly deeper than with any other artist.
The girl’s choice of clothing and the painter’s choice of composition connect her to the European portrait tradition from the Renaissance – but her native features resist any kind of Europeanising.