The oil painting titled ‘When Will You Marry?’ (Nafea faa ipoipo) was created in 1892 by Paul Gauguin. The painting depicts a young Tahitian woman dressed in traditional clothes of Tahiti sitting in front of another woman wearing western style clothing. Their facial features show fuller lips, rather conical noses, and the entire facial structures are typical of Gauguin’s usual style of depicting Tahitian women.
If you look at the above painting you can see the foreground is green representing grass, followed by yellow in the middle depicting bare earth and blue beyond, maybe, depicting some water body. Further beyond the women is the brownish yellow area possibly depicting cultivated grain fields where there are other humans, either watching the women, or tending their fields, as the distance denoted by their tiny figures does not show their clear expressions, emotions or intent. Their typical hats indicate they are men. Further beyond in the back of the young beauties some lush greenery and bare hills can be seen.
Gauguin went to Tahiti in 1891 as he wanted to create pure Primitive art depicting original people at their natural surroundings. But Tahiti had already been invaded and colonized by European traders and settlers. Reportedly, about two-thirds of the original inhabitants of the island had already died of diseases brought by Europeans.
He painted many pictures of the indigenous women dressed in their traditional Tahitian clothes as well as in western dresses as seen in the image above. He painted the Tahitians as he actually saw the native women there and also as he could imagine them in his wildest of daydreams.
Gauguin’s color scheme and their use are diametrically opposite to the trend of his times and such experiments with bold pure colors led to the further development of Primitivism, Synthetism, and even influenced artists such as Picasso. Incidentally, for some time, he had occasionally painted in the company of Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne.
The words ‘NAFEA Faa ipoipo’ (When will you marry) is written at the bottom right-hand corner of the painting and at the bottom left Gauguin had signed with the year as ‘92. Gauguin usually inscribed his paintings in Tahitian language the rudiments of which he learned after going there.
His bold experimentation with unconventional colors led to the evolution of Synthetism, while his expression of the latent meaning of the subjects of his paintings developed Primitivism. It is interpreted as a form of his revolt against the established styles of art as he was getting disappointed with the stereotyped European styles. He researched on art emerging from Africa and Asia that appeared to him full of mystic symbolism. Elements of spiritual as well as mystic symbolism also can be observed in his works after he went to Tahiti.
Gauguin’s works are hard to come by in the art market and when they are available for sale the prices are sky-high, running into tens of millions of dollars, because most of his works are now in art museums or held by art collectors and the elite as a form of long term investment.
Nafea Faa Ipoipo became most expensive artwork of the world when its owner, the family of Rudolf Staechelin, sold it privately for US$300 million in February 2015. The buyer is believed to be the Qatar Museums/ the royal family of Qatar. The painting was on loan for about 50 years to the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland, before it was sold.
Vincent van Gogh, a contemporary of Gauguin, with whom he shared a fraught relationship of friendship, hate and jealousy, was financially at par with him before he travelled to Tahiti. However, he did much better than van Gogh who is believed to have sold only one painting during his lifetime (The Red Vineyard, sold for 400 Francs in 1890, equal to about $2000 today to Anna Boch, a Belgian impressionist painter and art collector). However, as is the case of van Gogh, Gauguin’s works became popular only after his death.
It is often said that misfortune and failures are the stepping stones to success. Had the Paris stock market not crashed in 1882 and the art market contracted subsequently, the two sources from which Gauguin became a successful and rich Parisian, leading to Gauguin's financial crash forcing him to pursue painting full-time, the world of today may not have got the rich collection of art created by him.
Some of the art movements influenced by Paul Gauguin are Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism, and some of the artists influenced by him are Picasso, van Gogh, Henri Matisse, André Derain and Georges Braque.