Sunday, 31 August 2014

Paul Gauguin - Naturist Painter?

Paul Gauguin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach by Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist painter. His peers included Vincent van Gogh and his work influenced other famous artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. It should be noted that he was hardly a model citizen. He gained notoriety for a lascivious and indulgent lifestyle.

He lived in Tahiti for the first time from 1891 to 1893. There he discovered casual nudity among the natives and spent time nude himself. From those experiences, he recounted an environment where the lack of clothing desexualized women and created more equal relationships between the genders. It is particularly interesting that he made these observations given that Gauguin was infamous for having relations with multiple young Tahitian women.

His observations are similar to the ones that are often heard today from naturists. That when people are free of clothing their attitudes change. The conversations are often more genuine and without pretense. We present our authentic self to others – not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.

From Noa Noa published in 1919 by Paul Gauguin:
(Translated by O. F. Theis)

Among peoples that go naked, as among animals, the difference between the sexes is less accentuated than in our climates. Thanks to our cinctures and corsets we have succeeded in making an artificial being out of woman. She is an anomaly, and Nature herself, obedient to the laws of heredity, aids us in complicating and enervating her. We carefully keep her in a state of nervous weakness and muscular inferiority, and in guarding her from fatigue, we take away from her possibilities of development. Thus modeled on a bizarre ideal of slenderness to which, strangely enough, we continue to adhere, our women have nothing in common with us, and this, perhaps, may not be without grave moral and social disadvantages.

On Tahiti the breezes from forest and sea strengthen the lungs, they broaden the shoulders and hips. Neither men nor women are sheltered from the rays of the sun nor the pebbles of the sea-shore. Together they engage in the same tasks with the same activity or the same indolence. There is something virile in the women and something feminine in the men.

This similarity of the sexes make their relations the easier. Their continual state of nakedness has kept their minds free from the dangerous pre-occupation with the "mystery" and from the excessive stress which among civilized people is laid upon the "happy accident" and the clandestine and sadistic colors of love. It has given their manners a natural innocence, a perfect purity. Man and woman are comrades, friends rather than lovers, dwelling together almost without cease, in pain as in pleasure, and even the very idea of vice is unknown to them.

Here is the original version in French:

Chez ces peuplades nues, comme chez les animaux, la différence entre les sexes est bien moins accentuée que dans nos climats. Grâce à nos artifices de ceintures et de corsets, nous avons réussi à faire de la femme un être factice, une anomalie que la nature elle-même, docile aux lois de l'hérédité, nous aide, sur le tard des races, à compliquer, à étioler, et que nous maintenons avec soin dans un état de faiblesse nerveuse et d'infériorité musculaire, en lui épargnant les fatigues, c'est à dire les occasions de développement. Ainsi modelées sur un bizarre idéal de gracilité—auquel nous restons, quant à nous, pratiquement, étrangers—nos femmes n'ont plus rien de commun avec nous, ce qui ne va peut-être pas sans de grades inconvénients moraux et sociaux.

A Tahiti, l'air de la mer et de la forêt fortifie tous les poumons, élargit toutes les épaules, toutes les hanches, et les rayons du soleil et les graviers de la plage n'épargnent pas plus les femmes que les hommes. Ils font ensemble les mêmes travaux, avec la même activité ou la même indolence. Quelque chose de viril est en elles, et, en eux, quelque chose de féminin.

Cette ressemblance des sexes facilite leurs relations, et la nudité perpétuelle, en écartant des esprits la préoccupation dangereuse du mystère, le prix qu'il prête aux "hasards heureux" et ces couleurs furtives ou sadiques de l'amour chez les civilisés, donne aux moeurs une innocence naturelle, une parfaite pureté. L'homme et la femme, étant des camarades, des amis autant que des amants, sont presque sans cesse, pour la peine comme pour le plaisir, associés, et la notion même du vice leur est interdite.