Idol with a Shell by Paul Gauguin

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Depiction of the Deity

The "Idol with a Shell" sculpture depicts a deity, depicted in the lotus position, a symbol of spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. The deity is adorned with cannibalistic teeth made from a parrot fish's pharyngeal tooth, signifying a connection to the ocean and its creatures. The legs are tattooed, reflecting the cultural significance of tattoos in Polynesian society, and the pectoral and belt are decorated with mother-of-pearl adornments, adding a touch of natural elegance and iridescence to the figure.

Accompanying Figures

Two figures are depicted on either side of the main figure, with arms ending in flat, rake-like fingers, symbolizing a connection to the earth and nature. Their legs are bent in a manner suggestive of sexual gestures in the tamure dance, a traditional Polynesian dance that embodies the rhythm and vitality of the islands. These figures add a dynamic and vibrant element to the sculpture, enhancing its overall narrative and cultural depth.

Maori-Inspired Features

The sculpture also features Maori-inspired fish hook ears, which are traditional symbols of prosperity, fertility, and good luck. Tikis with flat skulls decorate the base of the shield, representing ancestral spirits and guardians. These elements highlight the fusion of different cultural influences in the sculpture, showcasing a rich tapestry of traditions and beliefs that Gauguin incorporated into his work.

Gauguin's Exploration of Sculpture

Gauguin's use of sculpture, an unfamiliar medium for him, allowed him to delve even deeper into his "unwittingly savage" nature than in his paintings. This exploration provided him with a new avenue to express his fascination with primitivism and the raw beauty of indigenous cultures. Through this medium, he was able to convey a more tactile and three-dimensional representation of his artistic vision, enriching his oeuvre and leaving a lasting impact on the world of art.


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